Oral chelation is a self-administered alternative treatment for hardening of the arteries using EDTA, the same man-made amino acid that medical doctors inject into a patient's veins as an emergency treatment for lead or mercury poisoning. EDTA binds heavy metals into a compound that is excreted in urine. Oral chelation therapists maintain that EDTA also cures heart disease by "chelating" or seeking out and binding calcium, one compound in the plaque that blocks artery walls. Some also market EDTA as a blood cleaner for many other medical conditions, ignoring warnings about its severely toxic side effects.
EDTA or ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid can be purchased in capsules or liquid form with no prescription in health food stores and online. It has been promoted by alternative medical practitioners for chelation therapy since the 1970s.
Web sites marketing oral chelation supplements declare them safe and downplay side effects, offering different theories about the mechanism by which oral chelation is supposed to clear out the arteries. Some who sell EDTA also suggest other health benefits for the supplements and even recommend it as a tonic for those who have no medical problems.
The American Heart Association found "no scientific evidence to demonstrate any benefit from this form of therapy." All the major medical regulatory authorities agree with the American Heart Association that chelation therapy offers no proven benefits.
The positive effects reported by many who use oral chelation therapy have been found to be no different from the well-known placebo effect, where a patient's strong desire and belief in a treatment can result in improvement in as many as 50 per cent of the cases, even when the medication or treatment is a harmless fake or so-called "sugar pill."
Some of the improvement attributed to chelation therapy may also be the result of the recommended lifestyle changes prescribed along with the treatment, such as exercise, giving up caffeine and tobacco, limiting alcohol and improving nutrition.
Oral Chelation and Autistic Children
Parents of autistic children are the newest users of oral chelation supplements for their children, acting on the theory that autism can be triggered by mercury poisoning from childhood immunisation. The calcium depletion side effect of chelation therapy puts developing bones at particular risk.
Short Term Side Effects
The most common immediate side effects of oral chelation therapy include: skin rashes, redness and swelling, headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, fainting, fatigue, joint pain, body aches, cramps and convulsions.
Permanent and Deadly Side Effects
Those considering oral chelation should consult with a physician first to make sure that they have no medical conditions that put them at particular risk of long-term damage or death.
Over the longer term, the binding action of chelation therapy extracts minerals from the body. The EDTA is seldom all excreted and some will linger in the stomach continuing to bind to minerals and interfere with vitamin absorption, which can cause malnutrition and make the body more vulnerable to infection and disease.
Kidney damage from chelation therapy has resulted in permanent damage requiring ongoing dialysis. Deaths have also occurred during chelation therapy from kidney failure and cardiac arrhythmia.
Death and permanent injury have resulted from chelation therapy, even in doctor-supervised clinical trials. The American Heart Association warns of severe and life-threatening side effects and does not endorse chelation as a treatment for heart disease.