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|What Is Chelation Therapy?
Chelation therapy is a medical procedure which has been approved by the FDA for over 40 years for the treatment of people with heavy metal poisoning. More recently it has promoted as an alternative therapy for treating a variety of other conditions including heart disease, cancer, arthritis symptoms, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypertension, psoriasis and scleroderma. It usually involves an injection of a substance called ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) which is a chemical compound that binds (chelates) heavy metals so they can be dumped out of the body more easily. The word 'chelation' comes from a Greek word 'chele' which means 'claw', referring to the way the chemical grabs the metal.
Is It Approved For Treating Heart Disease?
No, it has only been approved by the FDA for the use of heavy metal poisoning. In 1998 the American College of Advancement in Medicine (ACAM), the main group behind promoting the therapy for alternative use, were charged by the Federal Trade Commission for promoting it with unsubstantiated claims. ACAM agreed to stop publishing any claims that were not backed up by reliable scientific research. However it must be pointed out that chelation treatment for alternative use is not illegal. A licensed medical doctor can provide chelation therapy for heart disease, or any other condition he deems appropriate. Although many mainstream doctors do not offer the service, it is offered by some 1,500 doctors in America who have used on over a million patients for heart disease, reportedly with significant success. Some practitioners insist it is a viable alternative to heart bypass surgery or coronary angioplasty and far less expensive. So, how is it supposed to work for treating heart disease? Advocates believe that EDTA can reduce the amount of calcium in the bloodstream which may help open blocked arteries caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Is It Approved For Cancer Treatment?
Some alternative practitioners claim that chelation can be used as an alternative treatment for cancer. They say it can remove environmental toxins from the body and thereby protects cells from exposure to harmful free radical molecules which could damage them. According the American Cancer Society, "relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences."
What Is The Procedure?
Chelation therapy is usually given in the form of an injection. It can be given as one quick injection but is usually given intravenously for a period of 2 to 4 hours. It is not just taken once, but rather repeated between 20 and 50 times over a period of several months. The average cycle for a patient with arterial blockages is 30 treatments. Only one treatment per day is allowed. Some patients receive treatment daily, others choose to spread it out over a weekly basis. As the therapy removes some important vitamins and minerals from the body, a high-dose of vitamin supplements are prescribed during the treatment. Prior to a course of chelation the doctor will take a complete medical history and the patient's diet is analyzed for nutritional balance. A physical examination is performed and the patient needs to provide a complete list of medications and supplements they are taking. A blood and urine specimen will be taken and an electrocardiogram (image) is usually ordered.
Does It Hurt?
Not usually although there may be some initial discomfort when the needle is inserted. Patients are seated in a reclining chair and left to relax, nap, read or watch TV while the therapy is in progress. It is possible to move around but care needs to be taken not to dislodge the needle which is attached to a portable intravenous infusion unit.
Do I Have To Go To Hospital For It?
No, chelation therapy is usually provided in the physician’s private clinic.
Can It Be Taken By Pill?
At this point in time there is no 'oral chelator' which is reportedly as effective as intravenous chelation. Although EDTA can be taken orally as a liquid, this form of treatment takes longer to work and is not as effective as intravenous methods. It may however be more convenient for some people. Recently some nutritional supplements which contain EDTA have appeared on the market claiming to have great artery unblocking effects. However the absorption rate of a pill is only a fraction of that possible by directly injecting the chemical into the bloodstream.
What Are The Main Arguments Against It?
1. According to the ACS there are no published studies which support the use of chelation therapy for either heart disease or cancer. One study in 1998 concluded that chelation therapy does not shrink tumors and in 1993 a review of all previous studies on chelation therapy found that previous data collected from 37 years of studies did not support claims that it was useful for treating heart problems. Subsequent studies have come to the same conclusion. However the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is currently undergoing a large placebo controlled study to find a more definitive answer on whether or not it is useful in treating heart disease.
2. The following well respected organizations say there is no scientific evidence to support the use of chelation therapy other than for metal poisoning: The FDA, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Osteopathic Association.
3. It has not been tested for possible interactions with other drugs, foods or dietary supplements.
4. It may produce toxic effects including palpitations, swelling of the veins and kidney damage. Since it removes calcium from the bloodstream it may also cause hypocalcemia (low calcium levels) and bone damage. It may also impair the body's ability to produce insulin. It should never be used by people with kidney or liver disease or those with bleeding disorders or pregnant or breastfeeding women.
5. It is usually given with large doses of vitamins and minerals which the ACS say can actually cause high levels of free radicals rather than lowering them. Furthermore loss of zinc can lead to cell mutations and may therefore actually increase the risk of cancer.
What Are The Main Arguments For It?
1. The risk of significant side effects, when properly administered is less than 1 in 10,000 patients. Advocates compare this to a death rate of about 3 in every 100 patients who undergo bypass surgery.
2. If EDTA is given too rapidly or in too large a dose it can cause serious harmful side effects. However reports of these types of serious consequences come from years ago when the dosages were still in the experimental stage. The risk of this happening today is low if you choose a provider with proper training and experience.
3. Anecdotally many practitioners report dramatic improvements in the majority of their patients. They say patients suffering regular angina attacks are routinely cured and those with crushing chest pain or leg can return to normal pain-free life. People with diabetic ulcers and gangrenous feet clear up within a matter of weeks. Patients who have been told their limbs need to be amputated because of gangrene see the condition completely heal, although some areas of dead tissue still need to be trimmed by surgery.
4. While there is no evidence that chelation offers a viable cancer treatment for those with advanced stages of cancer, there may be some evidence that it is useful for cancer prevention and early stages of cancer by blocking the damage of free radicals.
5. Proponents of chelation therapy say it is not in the interest of hospitals, physicians and pharmaceutical companies to research or back the therapy because bypass surgery and prescription drugs are a $50 billion a year business. As one critic put it: "every time a surgeon performs a heart bypass, he takes home a luxury sports car." A heart bypass procedure costs between $25,000 and $50,000 and angioplasty costs about $15,000.
How Much Does It Cost?
A typical course of chelation treatment costs between $2,000 and $4,000. It is not usually covered by health insurance.
Is Chelation Therapy For Me?
Only you can answer this question and most doctors will not help you decide. In fact patients who choose chelation often do so against the advice of their physician or cardiologist. Many have already undergone cardio surgery. The first time most patients hear about the therapy is through a friend or another patient who recommends it. If you would like to find a practitioner near you, a full list of ACAM approved doctors can be located on their website: www.acamnet.org.