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Chelation therapy usually consists of slow-drip IV injections of EDTA (ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid), a synthetic amino acid, combined with aerobic exercise, special diet, and no smoking. EDTA treatment has been around since the 1940's, when it was developed to treat lead poisoning.
The word "chelate" is derived from the Greek word for claw and apparently refers to the alleged removal of plaque and calcium deposits from arteries and veins by EDTA. Advocates claim that there is ample evidence to support the claim that chelation can prevent and cure heart disease, stroke, senility, diabetic gangrene, and many other vascular diseases. For example, the unpublished Cypher report collected data from several physicians who used chelation to treat patients with vascular diseases. Over 19,000 cases were studied and about 86% showed "a significant enhancement in the arterial perfusion of the upper and lower extremities," according to James P. Carter, M.D., in Racketeering in Medicine; Hippocrates Forsaken for Profit. However, the treatments were carried out independently by different physicians and there were no control groups. Lack of adequate controls in studies purporting to demonstrate the effectiveness of chelation has been a consistent criticism of skeptics. The evidence in favor of chelation as a cure for heart disease seems to consist mainly of testimonials and subjective patient/physician reports. Advocates claim that it is too expensive to do scientifically controlled studies and that there is a conspiracy by the medical establishment to prevent such studies from being undertaken. In any case, chelation therapy is not covered by Medicare nor will most insurance companies pay for it.
Critics of the therapy in the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Heart Association, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claim that there is no good scientific evidence supporting the extravagant claims of advocates. For example, the American Heart Association's Task Force on New and Unestablished Therapies reviewed the available literature on the use of chelation in treating atherosclerotic heart disease. They found no scientific evidence to demonstrate any benefit from this form of therapy.
Advocates claim that chelation has been tested and proven to be an effective cure of vascular diseases. They say it is about 10 times cheaper than a coronary bypass with equal or better results. Because EDTA is cheap and can't be patented, the advocates say, there is no big money to be made by pharmaceutical firms. Thus, the drug companies and the medical establishment have engaged in a half-century of deceit and conspiracy to suppress chelation because of fear it would cut into the profits made by drug therapy and surgery.
To accept the chelation advocates' argument is to accept the notion that the American medical establishment systematically suppresses evidence and persecutes anyone who challenges their monopoly. The conspiracy theory is argued at length by Dr. James P. Carter.
Advocates of "oral chelation" claim it is much cheaper than traditional chelation therapy, but so far there is no charge of conspiracy by traditional chelation advocates, though they seem to consider "oral chelation" misleading and ineffective. One advocate of "oral chelation" claims it costs one tenth of what IV chelation costs and it can "Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack by as much as 85%."
In recent years, chelation therapy has been recommended by some physicians and parents for children with autism. There is a belief among some people that autism is causally related to mercury poisoning from vaccinations. Some who believe this think that chelation, which, after all, removes heavy metals, might be effective as a treatment for autism. The scientific evidence, however, points strongly away from the conclusion that mercury is a significant causal factor in autism.* At best, one can say that chelation therapy is unproven for autism and could be dangerous.
Barrett, Stephen and Kurt Butler (eds.) A Consumer's Guide to Alternative Medicine: A Close Look at Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Faith-Healing, and Other Unconventional Treatments; edited by (Buffalo, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 1992).
Chelation Therapy: unsound claims and unproven therapy by Saul Green, Ph.D.
Chelation: Compounding Pharmacy’s Problems by Scott Gavura at Science-Based Medicine "...in the alternative medicine universe ... proponents often believe heavy metal toxicity is the 'one true cause' of disease, and chelation can undo microvascular inflammation, atherosclerosis, and even aging itself. From early days as an unproven treatment of coronary artery disease, its use has expanded to include autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and dozens of other diseases. Today, chelation is widely available. Regrettably, my own profession, pharmacy, facilitates this pseudoscience by manufacturing and selling chelation products."
[April 2010] High Damage Award in Chelation Case by Stephen Barrett, M.D. A naturopath uses chelation on a patient with widespread coronary atherosclerosis. After three months of treatment, the 52-year-old patient died of a heart attack.
Robban Sica, M.D., who was ordered to stop using chelation therapy improperly in 2005, has been charged with violating the order with 11 patients.
Finally, a hepatitis C outbreak at a holistic medical clinic in Brandon, Florida, was likely caused by the reuse of syringes on patients undergoing chelation therapy. The author of the news story notes: "Chelation, which uses IV medications to grab heavy metals and minerals out of the blood and remove them from the body, is approved by the FDA only for lead poisoning and heavy-metal toxicity. The use of it by some practitioners for conditions like autism and heart disease has drawn controversy to the practice."
Father takes ex-wife to court over son's autism treatment A Pflugerville man asked a state court to order his ex-wife to allow their son to undergo chelation for autism. Chelation has not been scientifically proven to help with autism and the idea that autism is a matter of toxicity is a fringe notion.
District Judge Rhonda Hurley of Travis County asked to hear testimony from the child's doctor, Bryan Jepson at Thoughtful House, an alternative treatment facility for autistic children headed by Andrew Wakefield. Thoughtful House requires both parents to agree before it will perform the pointless procedure.