|Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid (EDTA)
|Also Known As:
|| Chelation therapy
Chelation therapy is a treatment that involves repeated intravenous
administration of a synthetic solution called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid,
or EDTA, to pull toxins from the bloodstream. The word chelate comes from the
Greek root chele, which means "to claw." EDTA chelation therapy is
approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for lead and
heavy metal poisoning. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 people in the United
States are treated with EDTA chelation therapy every year -- roughly 100,000 of
these individuals, however, have received this therapy for the unapproved use of
heart disease. Many providers who perform this procedure are trained and
certified by the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM).
Proponents of chelation therapy for heart disease claim that EDTA, in
combination with oral vitamins and minerals, helps dissolve plaques and mineral
deposits associated with atherosclerosis (blockage of arteries that can lead to
heart attack or stroke). Although many Americans with heart disease have turned
to EDTA chelation therapy to improve their condition, the FDA has not approved
this therapy as an alternative treatment for heart disease. In fact, many
important medical organizations including the National Institutes of Health
(NIH), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Heart Association
(AHA), and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) have publicly criticized and
denounced the practice of EDTA chelation therapy for heart disease.
The criticism regarding this procedure rests on several issues. First, most
of the reports to date of the value of chelation for heart disease have been
largely based on poorly designed human studies called case series and a few
animal studies that may not apply to people. Secondly, several large-scale
clinical trials published in peer-reviewed journals have found that EDTA
chelation therapy is no better than placebo in improving symptoms associated
with heart disease. Thirdly, some medical experts argue that the theories about
why chelation might be of benefit for atherosclerotic plaque depend on an
outdated understanding of how heart disease develops (see
Uses section). Finally, and probably most
importantly, the safety of EDTA chelation therapy for people with heart disease
is not known.
The NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is
currently funding an important study to resolve the outstanding questions and
controversies about the effectiveness and safety of EDTA chelation therapy for
heart disease. The results of the pending NIH study may help sort out the debate
between those who believe in the value of EDTA chelation for heart disease
(including the members of the ACAM) and those who, based on the lack of
scientific information and concerns about safety, do not.
Lead Poisoning and Heavy Metal Toxicity
using EDTA is the medically accepted treatment for lead poisoning. EDTA is
injected intravenously in a medical setting, such as a clinic or a hospital.
Once in the bloodstream, EDTA latches onto lead and other metals to form a
compound that can be excreted in the urine. The process generally takes between
1 and 3 hours. Other heavy metal toxicities treated with chelation include
mercury, arsenic, aluminum, chromium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, selenium, zinc,
tin, and thallium. Chelating agents other than EDTA are also used to clear
several of these substances from the bloodstream.
Although not considered standard therapy,
EDTA has also been used to treat digoxin toxicity. In this case, EDTA helps
remove excess levels of digoxin, a medication known as a digitalis glycoside
that is used to treat abnormal rhythms of the heart. Digoxin toxicity occurs
when the body accumulates more digitalis than it can tolerate.
Proponents of EDTA chelation therapy for heart
disease believe that this process may help people with atherosclerosis or
peripheral vascular disease (namely, decreased blood flow to the legs) by
clearing clogged arteries and improving blood flow. However, this proposed
mechanism has not been proven. For example, in a study of 30 people with
atherosclerosis of the carotid arteries (vessels that supply blood to the
brain), 10 months of EDTA chelation treatments significantly improved blood flow
to the brain. The problem with the information from this study, however, is that
these patients were not compared to any other group. Therefore, it is not clear
if they got better simply by chance or because the EDTA intervention really made
Plus, as stated earlier, the theory that EDTA clears clogged arteries and
improves blood flow is based on a somewhat outdated model about the probable
causes of heart disease and other vascular disorders. Other newer theories about
how chelation may work include the possibility that EDTA functions like an
antioxidant, preventing damaging molecules known as free radicals from injuring
blood vessel walls. Some laboratory studies also suggest that EDTA chelation may
prevent collection of platelets (which can otherwise lead to formation of blood
clots and prevent blood flow) on the walls of blood vessels. These ideas are
Most studies investigating the effectiveness of EDTA chelation therapy for
heart disease and vascular disorders have found that this controversial
treatment is no better than placebo. For example, one scientifically rigorous
study comparing EDTA chelation therapy to placebo in 84 people with heart
disease concluded that those receiving EDTA chelation did no better than those
receiving placebo in terms of changes in exercise capacity and quality of life.
Similarly, several studies evaluating EDTA chelation therapy for atherosclerosis
of the legs (called peripheral vascular disease) did not find any difference
between those receiving EDTA and those receiving placebo. And, evaluation of
EDTA for diminished ability to have an erection due to decreased blood flow to
the penis, again, found no improvement in those receiving EDTA compared to those
EDTA is synthetic and not found naturally. Because there is concern that EDTA
may deplete important vitamins and minerals, EDTA chelation therapy is often
administered together with essential nutrients (including B vitamins, vitamin C,
There are advertisements for oral chelating agents available on the market,
some of which contain EDTA. There is no proof, however, that these agents work
and there is some concern that they may deplete levels of essential minerals.
|How to Take It|
EDTA chelation therapy is often administered together with magnesium and
vitamins B and C over a period of one to three hours.
For the treatment of lead poisoning, EDTA is administered intravenously by a
healthcare professional in the appropriate setting. The dose depends upon the
amount of lead in the child's blood as well as the child's height and weight.
Daily treatment for up to 5 days may be required.
Intravenous EDTA for heavy metal toxicity is generally delivered over one to
three hours. The recommended adult dosage varies depending on the size of the
person and the amount of lead or other metal in the body. For an average-sized
person, the amount may range from 700 to 3,500 mg every 12 hours until the
substance is significantly reduced in the bloodstream. The amount used would be
determined in a hospital setting.
Although not approved by the FDA and most medical organizations, the
following EDTA chelation guidelines have been established by ACAM for heart
disease and vascular disorders. Doses of 2,500 to 3,000mg in 500 mL of saline
are generally used over a period of one to three hours. For the prevention and
treatment of heart disease, only one dose of EDTA is administered in a single
24-hour period; 2 to 3 weekly treatments are typical. Most heart patients are
given 20 to 30 infusions, but the number of treatments suggested by the provider
may be as high as 50. The cost can range from $2,000 to $5,000.
EDTA infusions must be given slowly and treatments are scheduled at least 24
hours apart. The most common side effect reported is a burning sensation at the
site of the intravenous injection. In addition, some individuals may have an
allergic reaction to EDTA. Other serious side effects that have been reported
include low blood sugar, diminished calcium levels, headache, nausea,
dangerously low blood pressure, kidney failure, organ damage, irregular
heartbeat, seizures, or even death.
A qualified healthcare provider will monitor blood pressure, blood glucose,
cholesterol, organ function, and other vital statistics during treatment with
EDTA. EDTA may diminish desirable nutrients such as calcium and zinc. For this
reason, your health care provider will keep a close eye on these as well.
Animal studies suggest that EDTA
may increase the absorption of cefmetazole, an antibiotic in a class known as
cephalosporins. However, further studies in humans are needed to draw definitive
conclusions for people.
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|Review Date: April 2002|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Ruth DeBusk, RD, PhD, Editor,
Nutrition in Complementary Care, Tallahassee, FL; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, Ma; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH. All interaction sections have also
been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The
Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000),
Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March
2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy;
President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH,
MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative
Medicine, Honolulu, HI.|
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