Detoxing is a popular pastime in the health and wellness world. Juice cleanses, fasting, and laxatives are just a few strategies people use to rid themselves of impurities and toxins in the body.
But what about chelation therapy? Does it receive the same limelight? Not at all. If you were to conduct a poll with the general public, there is a good chance that the vast majority would have no clue what it is.
The use of chelation therapy is also a form of detoxing. It is a method used for removing heavy metals from the body, such as lead and mercury.
The reason this therapy is lesser known is most likely because most people aren’t even aware of the devastating health effects of heavy metal toxicity.
It’s one thing to understand the prevalence of pesticides and synthetic chemicals in processed food, but heavy metals? Really? Well, it’s true. Heavy metal toxicity is a growing public health concern.
Chelation therapy exists to combat the effects of heavy metal poisoning. Let’s take a closer look at what it is and how it works.
A Look at Heavy Metals
Heavy metals are naturally occurring in our environment. In geological terms, heavy metals are metallic elements, or metalloids, that possess a relatively higher density than water—hence “heavy” metal. They are found in natural concentrations throughout the environment.
However, certain ecological factors and natural phenomena can disrupt and redistribute heavy metals from their natural environments. For example, land disturbances can increase erosion in metal-enriched areas and drive metals into bodies of water, such as streams or rivers.
Humans also have a part to play when it comes to redistributing heavy metals. Industrial, domestic, medical, agricultural, and technological applications have led to a wide distribution of heavy metals.
Examples of this would be:
- Metal processing in refineries
- Coal-burning in power plants
- Production of textiles and plastics
- Paper processing plants
- Petroleum combustion
- Municipal waste treatment outfalls
- Urban runoff
- Landfill runoff
When they are released into the air, these heavy metals can reach bodies of water, eventually finding their way into water supply systems. This had led to worry over the potential health effects of heavy metals—general toxicity being among them.
Exposure to Heavy Metals
It is important to understand that some metals are, in fact, essential nutrients. There are some metals that are considered beneficial or essential elements:
- Manganese (Mn)
- Magnesium (Mg)
- Iron (Fe)
- Copper (Cu)
- Potassium (K)
- Molybdenum (Mo)
- Zinc (Zn)
- Cobalt (Co)
- Calcium (Ca)
- Sodium (Na)
Most of these would be considered dietary metals since the body typically absorbs them through our foods. However, it is still important to understand that all metals can potentially be toxic at some level. Some are only toxic in substantial amounts, while others can be fatally toxic in minute quantities.
As industrial impact and environmental factors continue to rise, the threat of human exposure to toxic heavy metals also rises. It is a growing public health concern. Again, much of this has to do with the growing prevalence of heavy metals in the water supply.
This has biological effects, such as killing aquatic life. Many people ingest toxic metals from eating fish (mercury). According to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some metals are also classified as human carcinogens (cancer-causing), such as arsenic, cadmium, and beryllium.
Lead Uses in History
One of the biggest concerns for heavy metal exposure is lead poisoning (which chelation therapy seeks to address). Lead is a naturally occurring bluish-gray metal that can be found within the earth’s crust.
Lead is an abundant metal, one that is durable, malleable, and resistant to corrosion. These qualities have made it a very popular metal throughout history. Its use stretches back to Ancient Rome, where it was used for water pipes, bathtub linings, and the lining of pots for boiling wine.
In medieval times, lead was widely used for roofing, coffins, and ornaments, and statues. Starting in the 1920s, lead was added to gasoline to help reduce engine wear and tear. Lead-based paints were also popular.
In modern-day times, the National Institutes of Health conducted a study on chelation therapy. This study was otherwise known as TACT. It was found that the treatment slightly reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other heart problems.
However, research eventually revealed the harmful effects of lead on human health. People finally decided to start letting the lead out when they began to realize the dangers. Sadly, lead poisoning continues to be an issue. For example, there are many homes in the U.S. that still have lead plumbing or lead-painted walls. Repeated exposure to these can be harmful.
Lead is stored in the bone, but it could affect any organ system. Its effects vary depending on the amount of exposure and the age of the person. Lead poisoning symptoms vary by age.
In children, some common symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Developmental delay
- Learning difficulties
- Irritability and fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain and vomiting
In adults, lead poisoning symptoms could include:
- High blood pressure
- Joint and muscle pain
- Mood disorders
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulties with memory
Sadly, many of these symptoms usually don’t show up until lead levels in the blood are dangerously high.
Getting the Lead Out with Chelation Therapy
Detoxifying the body from chemicals and toxins from the environment can be accomplished through pretty simple ways, such as detox juicing, cleansing, and even sweating (natural detox). But detoxing from lead exposure is not so easily done. It requires medical intervention.
As stated, lead poisoning can cause all sorts of health issues, from cognitive issues to damage to the circulatory system. Thankfully, chelation therapy helps get the lead out.
What is Chelation Therapy?
Chelation therapy is a standard treatment to combat and detoxify against the effects of heavy metals. It does two main things: Removes heavy metals from the body and removes calcification/plaque in the arteries. It is an FDA-approved prescription treatment for lead poisoning. People use this therapy as an alternative when conventional treatments and medications are not available or have not worked.
Chelation therapy uses Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid (EDTA), a synthetic amino acid. It also uses Dimercaptosuccinic Acid and Dimercaprol. These are referred to as chelating agents. Injected intravenously, EDTA binds to heavy metals and minerals in the body. The body then eliminates these harmful metals through the kidneys and then the urine.
A secondary effect is EDTA’s ability to bind with calcium deposits (plaque that restricts blood flow to the vessels). However, more research is needed as to the extent of these effects.
But it has proven to be an effective treatment to remove lead, arsenic, mercury, lead, copper, iron, arsenic, aluminum, and nickel.
Is it safe?
Yes, at least for some. It is not recommended for children, pregnant women, or people who have heart or kidney issues. To combat the loss of vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals are often added to EDTA solutions. A doctor in an outpatient clinic typically performs the treatment. There is a potential for adverse effects to occur; it just depends on the person.
Some side effects include:
- Kidney Damage
- Liver Damage
- Anaphylactic shock
Metals are naturally occurring elements on the earth, which are considered essential to human health. However, heavy exposure to some metals can prove harmful.
Ecological factors and human industry have disrupted the environment, leading to heavy metal redistribution in the environment. This has led to an increase in heavy metal toxicity in humans. Lead poisoning is one of the more common and dangerous forms of heavy metal toxicity.
Thankfully, proven treatments like chelation therapy are available to help remove and eliminate heavy metals, like lead, from the body and combat the effects of heavy metal poisoning.
The essential metals for humans: a brief overview | NIH
Heavy Metals Toxicity and the Environment | NIH
Issue Paper on the Human Health Effects of Metals | US EPA
Chelation: Harnessing and Enhancing Heavy Metal Detoxification—A Review | NIH