A Look at Chelation

By Ron Hunninghake, M.D.

Chelation is a therapy to improve general circulation. Atherosclerosis is the medical name for “hardening of the arteries.” Chelation helps to reverse atherosclerosis and improve blood flow to vital organs. It is a safe, effective, and relatively inexpensive medical procedure that does not involve surgery or catheterization.

EDTA chelation therapy helps to prevent the production of harmful free radicals.

How is chelation actually performed?  Chelation therapy involves the intravenous infusion of a prescription medicine called ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA). EDTA is a man-made substance that is similar in chemical structure to amino acids. Its unique property is to bind poisonous metals and remove them from the body. “Chele” is Greek for “claw.” Like a claw, EDTA latches onto lead, cadmium,aluminum, and other metals in the body. The bound metal-EDTA complex is then excreted harmlessly in the urine.

How does this improve circulation? Atherosclerosis is caused by multiple, complex factors, including the abnormal accumulation of metallic elements. EDTA not only removes harmful metals, but it normalizes the distribution of other metallic elements, most notably, calcium. Calcium and cholesterol are major components of plaque, the substance that blocks proper blood flow in atheromatous (fatty deposits) arteries. By eliminating metallic catalysts with EDTA, there is a reduction in the production of oxygen free radicals. Free radical pathology is now believed by many scientists to be one of the key causes of atherosclerosis, as well as contributing to the development of cancer, cataracts, and many other “diseases of aging.” In short, EDTA chelation therapy helps to prevent the production of harmful free radicals.

Does science support these claims? Every single study of the use of chelation therapy for atherosclerosis
which has ever been published (over 600!), without exception, has described an improvement in blood flow and a reduction in symptoms. All the adverse editorial comment to the contrary on chelation is lacking such evidence. To date, however, a single, large, double-blind study on chelation therapy has yet to be accomplished. Two recent studies of this nature remain incomplete due to political and financial obstacles.

Why is chelation so controversial? Chelation, when prescribed correctly, is an holistic therapy. A complete program of chelation therapy involves a broad-based health care program of regular exercise, proper nutrition, vitamin and mineral supplementation, and avoidance of tobacco and other damaging habits. These multiple and overlapping lifestyle variables are difficult to statistically control for in the study format favored by medical scientists. Such a study format fits the research of new drugs but not lifestyle therapy. Thus, most physicians are reluctant to endorse chelation therapy, in spite of its safety and effectiveness.

What about safety and side effects? Chelation ranks among the safest of all medical therapies. Over 400,000 patients have received more than four million treatments in the past 30 years. Not one death has been directly caused by chelation therapy, when properly administered by a trained and competent physician. Side effects such as vein irritation and mild pain, headache, and fatigue occasionally do occur. These are minor and transient and can be controlled by adjusting duration and frequency of treatment. Side effects tend to diminish after the first few treatments. Most patients have few or no side effects.

What about costs? Bypass surgery is the mechanical repair of only a small portion of the more than 100,000 miles of arterial pathways that lace the human body. Its costs vary from $30,000 to $50,000 or more. Chelation therapy is an office procedure that improves blood flow through the entire vascular system. Total costs vary from $2,500 to $5,000 for 20 to 40 4-hour treatments in a physician’s office. Thus, chelation costs about 1/10 as much and is over a hundred times safer.

Is chelation legal? Chelation therapy is completely legal. A licensed physician is free to utilize any therapy of acceptable risk which, in his or her professional judgment, is of potential benefit to their patient—even if claims for treatment are not yet approved by the FDA. The FDA does not regulate the practice of medicine. It regulates marketing and advertising claims for drugs. The FDA has approved the claims for using EDTA for acute lead poisoning but not for the treatment of atherosclerosis.

Will medical insurance pay for chelation therapy? Most review committees for medical insurance companies are staffed by physicians who favor drug and surgical therapy for atherosclerotic diseases, in spite of their greater cost and risk. While insurance policies generally do not exclude chelation therapy, patients have often had to resort to the courts to collect their insurance benefits, or simply pay for chelation out of their own pockets. [