Chelation Therapy New Hope for Victims of Atherosclerosis and Age-Associated Diseases

by Elmer M. Cranton, M.D.

Intravenous chelation therapy, a simple office procedure using ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) reverses and slows the progression of atherosclerosis and other age-related and degenerative diseases. Symptoms affecting many different parts of the body often improve, for reasons that are not yet fully understood. Blood flow increases in blocked coronary arteries to the heart, to the brain, to the legs, and all throughout the body. Heart attacks, strokes, leg pain and gangrene can be avoided using this therapy. Need for bypass surgery and balloon angioplasty often disappears after chelation. Published research also shows that chelation therapy acts as a preventive against cancer.

The free radical theory of disease (caused by free oxygen radicals) provides one scientific explanation for the many observed benefits following chelation therapy. Many scientific studies published in peer reviewed medical journals provide solid clinical evidence for benefit. This non-invasive therapy is very much safer and far less expensive than surgery or angioplasty.

Chelation therapy is a safe and effective alternative to bypass surgery or angioplasty and stents. Hardening of the arteries need not lead to coronary bypass surgery, heart attack, amputation, stroke, or senility. There is new hope for victims of these and other related diseases. Despite what you may have heard from other sources, EDTA chelation therapy, administered by a properly trained physician in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, diet, and nutritional supplements, is an option to be seriously considered by persons suffering from coronary artery disease, cerebral vascular disease, brain disorders resulting from circulatory disturbances, generalized atherosclerosis and related ailments which can lead to senility, gangrene, and accelerated physical decline.

Clinical benefits from chelation therapy vary with the total number of treatments received and with severity of the condition being treated. On average, 85 percent of chelation patients have improved very significantly. More than 90 percent of patients receiving 35 or more chelation infusions have benefited enough to be grateful for this therapy-even more so when they also followed a healthy lifestyle, avoiding the use of tobacco. Symptoms improve, blood flow to diseased organs increases, need for medication decreases and, most importantly, the quality of life becomes more productive and enjoyable.

When patients first hear about or consider EDTA chelation therapy, they normally have lots of questions. Undoubtedly you do, too. Here are the answers to those most commonly asked questions, explained in non-technical language.

What is Chelation?

Chelation (pronounced KEY-LAY-SHUN) is the process by which a metal or mineral (such as lead, mercury, iron, arsenic, aluminum, calcium, etc.) is bonded to another substance-in this case EDTA, an amino acid. It is a natural process, basic to life itself. Chelation is one mechanism by which such common substances as aspirin, antibiotics, vitamins, minerals and trace elements work in the body. Hemoglobin, the red pigment in blood which carries oxygen, is a chelate of iron.

What is Chelation as a Medical Therapy?

Chelation is a treatment by which a small amino acid called ethylenediaminetetraacetate acid (commonly abbreviated EDTA) is slowly administered to a patient intravenously over several hours, prescribed by and under the supervision of a licensed physician. The fluid containing EDTA is infused through a small needle placed in the vein of a patient's arm. The EDTA infusion bonds with unwanted metals in the body and quickly carries them away in the urine. Abnormally situated nutritional metals, such as iron, along with toxic elements such as lead, mercury and aluminum are easily removed by EDTA chelation therapy. Normally present minerals and trace elements which are essential for health are more tightly bound within the body and can be maintained with a properly balanced nutritional supplement.

Is it Done Just Once?

On the contrary, chelation therapy usually consists of anywhere from 20 to 50 separate infusions, depending on each patient's individual health status. Thirty treatments is the average number required for optimum benefit in patients with symptoms of arterial blockage. Some patients eventually receive more than 100 chelation therapy infusions over several years. Other patients receive only 20 infusions as part of a preventive program. Each chelation treatment takes from three to four hours and patients normally receive one to five treatments each week. It is the total number of treatments that determine results, not the schedule or frequency. Over a period of time, these injections halt the progress of the free radical disease. Free radicals underlie the development of atherosclerosis and many other degenerative diseases of aging. Reduction of damaging free radicals allows diseased arteries to heal, restoring blood flow. With time chelation therapy brings profound improvement to many essential metabolic and physiologic functions in the body. The body's regulation of calcium and cholesterol is restored by normalizing the internal chemistry of cells. Chelation has many favorable actions on the body.

Chelation therapy benefits the flow of blood through every vessel in the body, from the largest to the tiniest capillaries and arterioles, most of which are far too small for surgical treatment or are deep within the brain where they cannot be safely reached by surgery. In many patients, the smaller blood vessels are the most severely diseased, especially in the presence of diabetes. The benefits of chelation occur simultaneously from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet, not just in short segments of a few large arteries which can be bypassed by surgical treatment.

Do I have to go to a hospital to be chelated?

No, in most cases chelation therapy is an out-patient treatment available in a physician's office or clinic.

Does it hurt? What does it feel like to be chelated?

Being "chelated" is quite a different experience from other medical treatments. There is no pain, and in most cases, very little discomfort. Patients are seated in reclining chairs and can read, nap, watch TV, do needlework, or chat with other patients while the fluid containing the EDTA flows into their veins. If necessary, patients can walk around. They can visit the restroom, eat and drink as they desire, or make telephone calls, being careful not to dislodge the needle attached to the intravenous infusion they carry with them. Some patients even run their businesses by telephone or computer while receiving chelation therapy.

Are there risks or unpleasant side effects?

EDTA chelation therapy is relatively non-toxic and risk-free, especially when compared with other treatments. Patients routinely drive themselves home after chelation treatment with no difficulty. The risk of significant side effects, when properly administered, is less than 1 in 10,000 patients treated. By comparison, the overall death rate as a direct result of bypass surgery is approximately 3 out of every 100 patients, varying with the hospital and the operating team. The incidence of other serious complications following surgery is much higher, approaching 35%, including heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, mental impairment, infection, and prolonged pain. Chelation therapy is at least 300 times safer than bypass surgery.

Occasionally, patients may suffer minor discomfort at the site where the needle enters the vein. Some temporarily experience mild nausea, dizziness, or headache as an immediate aftermath of treatment, but in the vast majority of cases, these minor symptoms are easily relieved. When properly administered by a physician expert in this type of therapy, chelation is safer than many other prescription medicines. Statistically speaking, the treatment itself is safer than the drive in an automobile to the doctors office.

If EDTA chelation therapy is given too rapidly or in too large a dose it may cause harmful side effects, just as an overdose of any other medicine can be dangerous. Reports of serious and even rare fatal complications many years ago stemmed from excessive doses of EDTA, administered too rapidly and without proper laboratory monitoring. If you choose a physician with proper training and experience, who is an expert in the use of EDTA, the risk of chelation therapy will be kept to a very low level.

While it has been stated that EDTA chelation therapy is damaging to the kidneys, the newest research (consisting of kidney function tests done on 383 consecutive chelation patients, before and after treatment with EDTA for chronic degenerative diseases) indicates the reverse is true. There is, on the average, significant improvement in kidney function following chelation therapy. An occasional patient may be unduly sensitive, however, and physicians expert in chelation monitor kidney function very closely to avoid overloading the kidneys. Chelation treatments must be given more slowly and less frequently if kidney function is not normal. Patients with some types of severe kidney problems should not receive EDTA chelation therapy.

Is chelation therapy new?

Not at all. Chelation's earliest application with humans was during World War II when the British used another chelating agent, British Anti-Lewesite (BAL), as a poison gas antidote. BAL is still used today in medicine.

EDTA was first introduced into medicine in the United States in 1948 as a treatment for industrial workers suffering from lead poisoning in a battery factory. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Navy advocated chelation therapy for sailors who had absorbed lead while painting government ships and dock facilities. In the years since, chelation therapy has remained the undisputed treatment-of-choice for lead poisoning, even in children with toxic accumulations of lead in their bodies as a result of eating leaded paint from toys, cribs or walls.

In the early 1950's it was speculated that EDTA chelation therapy might help the accumulations of calcium associated with hardening of the arteries. Experiments were performed and victims of atherosclerosis experienced health improvements following chelation - diminished angina, better memory, sight, hearing and increased vigor. A number of physicians then began to routinely treat individuals suffering from occlusive vascular conditions with chelation therapy. Consistent improvements were reported for most patients.

Published articles describing successful treatment of atherosclerosis with EDTA chelation therapy first appeared in medical journals in 1955. Dozens of favorable articles have been published since then. No unsuccessful results have ever been reported (with the exception of several recent studies with very flawed data presented by bypass surgeons in an attempt to discredit this competing therapy). There have also been a number of editorial comments of a critical nature made by physicians with vested interests in vascular surgery and related procedures.

From 1964 on, despite continued documentation of its benefits and the development of safer treatment methods, the use of chelation for the treatment of arterial disease has been the subject of controversy.

What proof do you have that it works?

Physicians with extensive experience in the use of chelation therapy observe dramatic improvement in the vast majority of their patients. They see angina routinely relieved; patients who suffered searing chest and leg pain when walking only a short distance are frequently able to return to normal, productive living after undergoing chelation therapy. Far more dramatic, but equally common, is seeing diabetic ulcers and gangrenous feet clear up in a matter of weeks. Many individuals who have been told that their limbs would need to be amputated because of gangrene are thrilled to watch their feet heal with chelation therapy, although some areas of dead tissue may still have to be trimmed away surgically.

The approximately 1,500 American physicians practicing chelation therapy, plus hundreds of others in foreign countries, have countless files to prove they are able to reverse serious cases of arterial disease. Men and women often arrive at doctors' offices near death with diseases caused by blocked arteries. Weeks or months later, they're remarkably improved. There is a wealth of evidence from clinical experience that symptoms of reduced blood flow improve in up to 85 percent of patients treated. More than a million patients have thus far received chelation therapy, almost as many as have undergone bypass surgery.

In addition, several research studies have been published with results of before-and-after diagnostic tests using radio-isotopes and ultra sound which prove statistically that blood flow increases following chelation therapy. Even without blood-flow studies, if leg pain on walking is relieved, if angina becomes less bothersome, and if physical endurance and mental acuity improve, such benefits would be quite enough to justify EDTA chelation therapy. Improved quality of life and relief of symptoms are the most important benefits of chelation therapy.

What about bypass surgery?

Coronary artery bypass surgery, the popularly-prescribed procedure in which blocked portions of major coronary arteries of the heart are bypassed with grafts from a patient's leg veins, has never been proven by properly controlled studies to offer much or an advantage over non-surgical treatments, other that relief of pain in a minority of patients who cannot be controlled with medicine. It has even been suggested that the relief of pain following surgery might result from the cutting of nerve fibers which carry pain impulses from the heart and which also stimulate spasm of coronary arteries. It is not possible to perform bypass surgery without interrupting those nerves.

Arteriograms which are done to x-ray and visualize the arteries prior to surgery utilize a chemical dye which can cause arterial spasm. It is difficult to determine on the x-rays how much arterial blockage is permanent and how much is reversible spasm.

Indeed, the most recent research suggests that many of the more than 200,000 bypasses performed each year for the relief of pain and other symptoms brought on by clogged or blocked arteries are not necessary. A good case against rushing into bypass surgery is made by the findings of a ten-year, $24-million study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which compared post-operative survival rates of "bypassed" patients with a matched group of equally diseased patients treated non-surgically.

The study uncovered no advantage for the majority of patients who had been operated upon, compared with those receiving non-surgical therapy. It is important to note that the non-surgical therapy reported in that study did not include either chelation therapy or the newer calcium blocker drugs, and that only half of the patients received beta blocker drugs. Although studies have been reported to show that patients with left main coronary artery blockage live slightly longer after surgery, the studies were done before calcium blockers and newer beta blockers were available. Those medicines have been scientifically proven to protect against heart attack. Surgery might have come out a clear second best if all presently available non-surgical treatments, including chelation, had been compared to bypass.

Having surgery didn't improve the chances for most patients to live longer, live healthier, live better, or enjoy life more , when the results were statistically analyzed. The incidence of heart attacks (myocardial infarction) and both employment and recreational status were the same when comparing a large group of patients treated surgically with those treated non-surgically, even without using chelation therapy for the non-surgical treatment group.

Most importantly, cardiovascular surgery does nothing to arrest or reverse the underlying disease, which exists in varying degrees throughout the body. It is at best a piecemeal "cure" for a system-wide problem. Bypassing a tiny portion of the body's blood vessels can have little lasting benefit when the same degenerating condition which caused the most extreme blockage at one or two sites must of necessity be taking place everywhere, throughout the circulatory network.

One thing the general public is not fully aware of is that many people who have one bypass operation later need a second bypass. Sometimes the blood vessels that weren't bypassed become clogged and also need bypassing; sometimes the transplanted vessels used in the first graft become filled with new plaque; sometimes the transplants malfunction or turn out to be too small for the job. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that by ten years after surgery, grafted vessels had closed in 40 percent of patients, and in the remaining 60 percent, half developed further coronary narrowing. Once you've had a bypass, your chances of needing another go up about five percent a year. After five years, some specialists estimate, your chances of needing a second operation could be as high as 30 to 40 percent. And some patients go on to even a third operation or more. And approximately 2 to 3 out of every 100 patients undergoing bypass surgery die as a result of the procedure - even more if they are severely ill at the time of surgery. A much larger percentage suffer serious complications, even after they survive the surgery. Those percentages are even worse for balloon angioplasty - with or without stents.

Chelation patients are frequently able to return to work and to resume their sports and other activities, without the need to undergo surgery. If they stay on a proper diet, exercise within limits of tolerance, continue to take the prescribed program of nutritional supplements, and receive periodic maintenance chelation treatments (every one or two months, depending on the severity of the underlying medical diagnosis) they can usually go many years without suffering further heart attacks, strokes, senility or gangrenous extremities.

If you have been told, like most people eager for additional information about chelation therapy, that you have advanced arterial disease, you may have been advised to have vascular surgery or balloon angioplasty. If so, it is essential for you to understand the nature of your disease and all possible treatment choices, before you can make an intelligent decision concerning the various options. Even if chelation therapy and other non-surgical therapies should fail, bypass still remains a choice.

Is it true that chelation therapy combats atherosclerosis by acting like a liquid plumber - by leeching calcium out of atherosclerotic plaque?

No! Before recent medical breakthroughs in the area of free radical pathology, it was hypothesized that EDTA chelation therapy had its major beneficial effect on calcium metabolism - that it stripped away the excess calcium from the plaque, restoring arteries to their pliable precalcified state. This frequently offered explanation - the so-called "roto-rooter" concept - is not the real reason, as previously postulated, that chelation therapy produces its major health benefits. The fact that EDTA does remove some circulating calcium is now felt to be one of the less prominent aspects of its benefits. Calcium deposits are a late-stage phenomenon and have little to do with the formation of arterial plaque.

Most importantly, EDTA has an affinity for the so-called transition metal, iron, and for the related toxic metals, lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, aluminum and others, which are potent catalysts of excessive free radical reactions or other toxicity. Free radical pathology, it is now believed, is an important underlying process triggering the development of many age-related ailments, including cancer, senility and arthritis, as well as atherosclerosis. Thus, EDTA's primary benefit is that it greatly reduces the ongoing production of free radicals within the body by removing accumulations of metallic catalysts and toxins which accumulate at abnormal sites in the body as a person grows older and which speed the aging process.

This is a greatly oversimplified explanation of what actually occurs. For those of you with a decided interest in the scientific technicalities you can refer to the article entitled Scientific Rational for EDTA Chelation Therapy: Mechanism of Action by Elmer M. Cranton, M.D. and James P. Frackelton, M.D.

For a fuller explanation of the many issues involved, you will enjoy reading Bypassing bypass surgery, a full-length book by Elmer M. Cranton, M.D., which is written in popular form for the general public. The article on the scientific rationale and mechanism of action, mentioned in the last paragraph, is contained as a chapter in that book under the heading, "Take This to Your Doctor."

What other diseases might be benefited by chelation?

Because the very aging process itself correlates with ongoing free radical damage, it is no surprise that a large variety of symptoms have been reported to improve following chelation therapy, even symptoms not directly caused by circulatory disease. While there is no scientific evidence that chelation is a cure for these diseases, symptoms of arthritis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's , psoriasis, high blood pressure, and scleroderma have all been reported to improve with chelation therapy. In fact, there is no better treatment for scleroderma. Vision has been restored in macular degeneration. Patients generally feel younger and more energetic following therapy, even when taken for purely preventive reasons. In fact, chelation therapy is more desirable for prevention that it is for established disease. Preventive medicine is always preferable to late stage crisis intervention.

A recently published article from the University of Zurich in Switzerland reported an 18-year follow-up of a group of 56 chelation therapy patients. When comparing the death rate from cancer with that of a control group of patients who did not receive chelation therapy, the authors found that patients who received EDTA chelation therapy had a 90% reduction of cancer deaths. Epidemiologists from the University of Zurich reviewed the data and found no fault with the reported facts or the conclusions.

There is no evidence that chelation therapy is of benefit in the treatment of advanced cancer, once the diagnosis is made, but there is a large body of scientific research indicating that free radical damage to DNA is an important factor at the onset of most cancer. Chelation therapy blocks damaging free radicals.

Why haven't I heard of chelation before?

If EDTA chelation therapy is safe and effective as indicated by many published studies, and by the experience of hundreds of doctors, why haven't you heard more about it? That is a good question!

Until quite recently, relatively few patients have been informed that this therapy is available. Many heart specialists may not have even heard of the treatment and would be reluctant to prescribe it if they had. The American Medical Association has not yet approved chelation therapy for atherosclerosis, although it does endorse its use in the treatment of lead and other heavy metal poisoning. Many insurance companies will not compensate policy holders for chelation therapy unless it is given for proven lead poisoning of a serious degree. If chelation therapy is given for atherosclerosis, it is often labeled "experimental" or "not necessary " or "not customary" by medical insurance companies and payment is denied. They deny payment to patients for chelation therapy even though they do pay for bypass surgery, and even though chelation might have saved them tens of thousands of dollars. Like many other aspects of our lives, a considerable amount of politics seems to be involved - in this case, medical politics.

Politically powerful traditional medical groups and manufacturers of cardiovascular drugs have consistently suppressed knowledge of chelation therapy, perhaps because of a large vested interest in competing coronary related health care. The cost of all medical care for victims of heart disease in the United States, including coronary bypass surgery and prescription drugs, exceeds $40 billion per year. Obviously, many hospitals, physicians, and pharmaceutical companies would experience a decline in need for their services if chelation therapy were to become universally popular.

Physicians who remain skeptical about chelation therapy are those who have never used it. They are either completely uninformed about the research that has been done to document the safety and effectiveness of chelation therapy, or they are committed by training or source of income to other therapeutic procedures, such as vascular surgery and related procedures. Many physicians have merely accepted criticisms of an editorial nature stemming from such source, without digging into the true facts for themselves. Recent reports of clinical trails alleging to disprove chelation therapy are all so flawed in design that they offer no evidence at all. Doctors, however, are usually too busy to read every word, and often accept the misleading summaries and abstracts, without analyzing the data for themselves. The bypass and cardiovascular drug industries have been extremely well marketed - to the medical profession as well as to the public.

Is chelation therapy for you?

Only you can make that decision!  Chances are, your doctor won't help you decide. Patients who choose chelation therapy often do so against the advice of their personal physicians or cardiologists. Many have already been advised to undergo vascular surgery. Occasionally, a patient never hears about chelation therapy until he or she is hospitalized and a friend or relative begs him or her to look into this non-invasive therapy before proceeding to surgery. In an impressively large number of instances, a new patient comes for chelation on the recommendation of someone who has been successfully chelated. Many patients have benefited even after one or more failed bypasses.

You are encouraged to communicate with someone who's shared your dilemma, someone who can tell you about his or her own experience with chelation therapy. Feel free to contact others with problems similar to yours who have chosen chelation therapy. Names are available from the Clinics. Most patients who have been helped will be happy to give you their side of the story.