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Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Index Of Alternative Therapies And Modalities
When deciding to begin a complementary therapy or to see a complementary practitioner, first speak with your primary health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.
Chelation therapy was developed during the 1950s as a way to cleanse the blood and blood vessel walls of toxins and minerals. Therapy involves infusing the chemical edetic acid (EDTA) into the blood. Sometimes the therapy may be given by mouth, which occasionally uses other chemicals.
Chelation was first used to treat heavy metal poisoning, but some observers believed that people receiving chelation therapy were benefiting in other ways. Today, chelation practitioners may recommend this therapy for clogged arteries (called atherosclerosis), heart disease, peripheral vascular disease (claudication), diabetes, and many other health problems. Chelation practitioners often recommend 20 or more treatments, which may cost several thousand dollars.
The term "chelation" is also sometimes used in medicine as a general term to refer to the use of chemicals in the blood to remove specific toxins or contaminants. For example, deferoxamine is a chelating agent used to treat high levels of iron in the body. This type of chelation should not be confused with EDTA chelation therapy.
It has been suggested that chelation breaks down cholesterol plaques that cause clogged arteries and removes calcium from these plaques. However, there is a lack of evidence supporting this theory. Chelation has also been suggested as an antioxidant therapy, although there is limited research in this area as well.
Scientists have studied chelation therapy for the following health problems:
Heavy metal/lead toxicity
For many years, chelation therapy has been usd with calcium disodium EDTA to treat heavy metal poisoning. Chelation is still an accepted medical therapy for lead toxicity, and several studies report lower levels of lead in the blood and slower progression of kidney failure. Chelation therapy may also be used to treat iron, arsenic, mercury, or cobalt poisoning. However, some research results are mixed. More studies are needed to clarify.
Repeated chelation therapy may improve kidney function and slow the progression of kidney damage. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Eye disorders (calcific band keratopathy)
EDTA is use to treat calcium deposits on the eye. However, well-designed research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
Ovarian cancer (adjunct to chemotherapy)
Early evidence shows that EDTA may be beneficial for overian cancer patients when used with chemotherapy. However, further studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.
Evidence does not support the use of EDTA chelation therapy in heart disease even though there is strong popular interest. At this time, the evidence suggests it does not work, and it cannot be recommended as a treatment for heart disease.
Claudication (peripheral vascular disease)
People with clogged arteries in the legs (peripheral vascular disease) may experience a sensation of pain or fatigue in the legs with exercise (claudication). Studies suggest that EDTA chelation therapy may not be beneficial in claudication, and it is not supported by research at this time.
Chelation therapy has been suggested for many other uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness. Some of these suggested uses are for conditions that are potentially life-threatening. Consult with a health care provider before using chelation for any use.
| Alzheimers disease|
Chronic degenerative diseases
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Coronary heart disease
Heart rhythm abnormalities
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
| Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea of the eye)|
Neuroprotection (oxaliplatin-related toxicity)
Sickle cell disease
Systemic lupus erythematosus
Chelation may cause many severe side effects, including severe kidney damage, reduction of the body's ability to make new blood cells in the bone marrow, dangerously low blood pressure, fast heart rate, dangerously low calcium levels in the blood, increased risk of bleeding or blood clots (including interference with the effects of the blood-thinning drug warfarin [Coumadin]), immune reactions, abnormal heart rhythms, allergic reactions, blood sugar imbalances and convulsions. There have been reports of headache, fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal upset, excessive thirst, sweating (diaphoresis), low white blood cell counts and low levels of blood platelets, or inflammation of the uvea (middle layer of the eye). People using chelation have had severe reactions that caused them to stop breathing. Death has been reported, although it is not clear if chelation therapy was the direct cause. One possible cause may be due to the loss of calcium.
Avoid chelation therapy if you have heart, kidney or liver disease or any condition affecting blood cells or the immune system. Chelation should be avoided in pregnant or breast-feeding women and in children. Chelation may not be safe in anybody; speak with a qualified health provider to balance the risks and possible benefits.
Chelation therapy with EDTA has been suggested for many conditions. Chelation may play a role in the treatment of lead or heavy metal toxicity. It should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health care provider. Chelation has not been shown to be effective for any other condition. Recent studies suggest that chelation may not be beneficial as a treatment for clogged arteries or peripheral vascular disease. Chelation may cause many side effects or death. It should be avoided if you have heart, kidney, or liver disease; blood disorders; or immune system disorders. Chelation therapy is not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women or children. Speak with your health care provider if you are considering chelation therapy.
The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.
- Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research
Selected Scientific Studies: Chelation Therapy
Natural Standard has reviewed all of the currently available medical literature to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.
Selected studies are listed below:
- Anderson TJ, Hubacek J, Wyse DG, et al. Effect of chelation therapy on endothelial function in patients with coronary artery disease: PATCH substudy. J Am Coll Cardiol 2003;41(3):420-425.
- Bell SA. Chelation therapy for patients with ischemic heart disease [Comment]. JAMA 2002;287(16):2077.
- Ernst E. Chelation therapy for coronary heart disease: an overview of all clinical investigations. Am Heart J 2000;140(1):139-141.
- Grawehr M, Sener B, Waltimo T, Zehnder M. Interactions of ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid with sodium hypochlorite in aqueous solutions. Int Endod J 2003;36(6):411-417.
- Grebe HB, Gregory PJ. Inhibition of warfarin anticoagulation associated with chelation therapy. Pharmacotherapy 2002;22(8):1067-1069.
- Hellmich HL, Frederickson CJ, DeWitt DS, et al. Protective effects of zinc chelation in traumatic brain injury correlate with upregulation of neuroprotective genes in rat brain. Neurosci Lett 2004;355(3):221-225.
- Huynh-Do U. [Gout nephropathyghost or reality?]. Ther Umsch 2004;61(9):567-569.
- Knudtson ML, Wyse DG, Galbraith PD, et al. Chelation therapy for ischemic heart disease: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2002;287(4):481-486.
- Lin JL, Lin-Tan DT, Hsu KH, Yu CC. Environmental lead exposure and progression of chronic renal diseases in patients without diabetes. N Engl J Med 2003;348(4):277-286.
- Markowitz ME. Managing childhood lead poisoning. Salud Publica Mex 2003;S225-S231.
- Morgan BW, Kori S, Thomas JD. Adverse effects in 5 patients receiving EDTA at an outpatient chelation clinic. Vet Hum Toxicol 2002;44(5):274-276.
- Najjar DM, Cohen EJ, Rapuano CJ, et al. EDTA chelation for calcific band keratopathy: results and long-term follow-up. Am J Ophthalmol 2004;137(6):1056-1064.
- Quan H, Ghali WA, Verhoef MJ, et al. Use of chelation therapy after coronary angiography. Am J Med 2001;111(9):686-691.
- Sang Choe E, Warrier B, Soo Chun J, et al. EDTA-induced activation of Ca-regulated proteins in the vaginal mucosa 2004;68A(1):159-167.
- Shannon M. Severe lead poisoning in pregnancy. Ambul Pediatr 2003;3(1):37-39.
- Strassberg D. Chelation therapy for patients with ischemic heart disease [Comment]. JAMA 2002;287(16):2077.
- Villarruz MV, Dans A, Tan F. Chelation therapy for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (Cochrane Review). Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2002;(4):CD002785.
Last updated April 30, 2008
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