What's the Fuss Over Chelation? by Jonathan Collin, M.D.


(previously published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer)

For those of you who may be confused by the ongoing controversy over chelation therapy, let me give you a few pointers. Chelation chemistry is a well recognized field of study, having broad application in research, industry, and in medicine. Chelation therapy, as a specific treatment for hardening of the arteries, is disputed, and this is where the controversy comes in.

What does chelation mean? It basically is defined as a chemical reaction involving a protein structure binding a metal element. When the protein and metal join, the bond, known as ligand, forms one of the most stable structures in nature. Your blood hemoglobin is a chelate formed by the bonding of iron to the blood protein. In plants, chlorophyll represents a chelation of magnesium to plant protein. Anytime a chemist wishes to control metalsin solution, he will use a chelating agent to remove the metal element.

Waiting for "proof"
One particular chelating agent, EDTA, has the remarkable ability to bind a wide range of metals. Unlike hemoglobin which normally only accepts iron, and chlorophyll which only accepts magnesium, EDTA will bind with calcium or magnesium or iron or lead or even plutonium. The ability of EDTA to bond with calcium makes it very useful in medical technology. A blood specimen will not clot if EDTA is in the specimen container. The binding of EDTA to lead offers the very best medical therapy for lead poisoning. EDTA has a high affinity for radioactive substances, giving it high marks for treatment in radiation poisoning. So what is the chelation therapy controversy?

A growing number of physicians in the state of Washington, throughout the United States, and internationally, particularly in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil, are using EDTA to treat atherosclerosis, circulatory conditions caused by hardening of the arteries. While EDTA is a perfectly legitimate therapy for lead poisoning, it is considered unproven as a treatment for atherosclerosis.

Although drug manufacturers published statements touting the role EDTA had in treating circulatory conditions in the past, the FDA forced the companies to remove these comments from their labeling. The American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, Medicare, and the U.S. Public Health Service feel that EDTA's use for these disorders is investigational and has not yet been proven. Yet, the number of doctors who are using EDTA to improve blood flow to the heart's coronary vessels is increasing yearly.

For years, only a very small contingent of doctors used EDTA in this manner. Fewer than 10 formed a group, the American Academy of Medical Preventics, in 1974. Now, 600 physicians have become seriously involved in chelation therapy, and consider it unequivocally a validated treatment. Although statistics on this are difficult to compile, the Academy estimates 500,000 Americans have received in excess of five million chelation treatments between 1974 and 1989. Most of these individuals demonstrated improved post-chelation circulation studies without manifesting significant side-effects. It stretches the imagination to consider this treatment investigational.

Instead of launching new experimentation and tabulating new data, medical spokesmen of the AMA, the American Heart Association, and the NIH were asked their opinion of EDTA chelation therapy. No reputable scientific study is ever made on the basis of opinion. The articles appearing in the Public Health Service report, disputing the validity of EDTA chelation, were not based on careful scientific research. Instead, anecdotal reports of self-acclaimed chelation critics professed the inadequacy and toxicity of chelation.

If EDTA is truly ineffective and harmful, why aren't there good scientific data available to confirm these allegations?

One reason might be that the medical community is afraid to touch this hot potato with a 10-foot pole. Nobody having a credible academic standing wants to get his name tainted with a controversial therapy.

I say that chelation does work. When Norman E. Clarke, M.D., Charles N. Clarke, M.D., and Robert E. Mosher, Ph.D. described how angina pectoris was successfully treated by EDTA in 1956, they conducted careful scientific work. They had no ulterior motives; there were no hidden vested interests. Their report was based on the simplest of scientific methods; they just observed changes in patients receiving the treatment. Cardiologists Meltzer, Ural and Kitchell confirmed their findings. Carlos Lamar, M.D., further corroborated the results.

Recently, 20 papers have been published in the peer-review literature affirming the efficacy of EDTA in atherosclerosis. The original findings have never been reliably challenged. A specialist board, the American Board of Chelation Therapy, has been organized and is establishing the diplomate requirements for a new specialty in EDTA chelation therapy. EDTA chelation therapy is an appropriate, scientific therapy. Until responsible medical authorities conduct legitimate scientific research, disparaging reviews of EDTA should be disallowed. Parties interested in learning more about chelation are directed to books now widely available on the topic, and must seek the medical attention of private practitioners willing to administer the treatment.

Reprinted from the Port Townsend Health Letter—Winter 1990

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