What is chelation?
Chelation is a medical intervention where an agent that attracts heavy metals is given in some form or another with the intent to remove heavy metals from the body. Chelation therapy is offered to patients who have laboratory demonstrated elevations of heavy metals including lead, mercury, and arsenic.
Where do these metals come from?
We live in a toxic environment and susceptible individuals can inadvertently be poisoned by one means or another, starting from the womb. Different locations have different environmental pollutants. For example, some cultures have a diet which includes a lot of seafood. They tend to have high levels of mercury.
Why don’t these metals come out naturally?
We have natural pathways that are designed to clear toxic metals from our body. We’re all born with different capacities to accomplish this task. Some of our population is more easily “poisoned” than others. We know the very young and the very old are especially sensitive to poisonings and heavy metal exposures. In these cases, heavy metals can accumulate faster than they can be removed. When they do accumulate, they can poison enzyme systems that are necessary for normal metabolic function.
How do we test for heavy metals?
The science of detection of heavy metals is evolving nicely, but we have a long way to go. After exposure, the heavy metals are picked up by blood and transported quickly to the metal’s tissue of choice. This is like being in a taxi cab, you want to get to your destination and get out of the cab. For example, lead prefers to be bound to bone tissue. When the body is exposed to lead, the blood stream transports it to bone, and the lead deposits there.
One of the most sensitive tests available at most labs is called a Porphyrin Profile. How this measures the total body burden of heavy metals as well as potentially pointing to a single agent is beyond the scope of today’s discussion. This test can be serially followed while doing chelation and you can actually watch the numbers improve.
Another test, though less sensitive but a lot more gratifying, is the urine toxic metal challenge. In this test, a pre-chelation urine is obtained and evaluated for several specific heavy metals, which are ascribed a value. When a chelating agent is then given, a follow up urine is obtained and if one or more of the heavy metals is increased, you can see quickly what is coming out (i.e. lead or mercury) and “how much” more than without the chelator. There are some other ways to follow heavy metals, and your practitioner will certainly be well versed in one or more of these laboratory studies.
Calcium disodium EDTA
This is an amino acid that attracts lead, other heavy metals, and some minerals from the bloodstream and expels the toxic elements in the urine. EDTA works to remove excess lead from the body, but is not specific to mercury or methyl mercury like DMSA or DMPS. It can be taken orally, rectal suppository, or given IV (intravenous).
This FDA approved drug can be used in children when lead toxicity is suspected, but can remove other heavy metals including mercury and arsenic. It can be taken orally, transdermally, or given as a suppository.
DMPS (not FDA approved)
DMPS is given with the intent to remove mercury from the body. It can be given IV, intramuscularly, subcutaneously, transdermally, or by suppository.
Clinicians who include chelation therapy in their practice will have their “favorite” approach to both diagnosis and treatment and monitoring. They will often prescribe additional supplements because it is common for certain minerals to be removed during the process. Chelation can certainly be augmented with many different approaches, such as the addition of glutathione, vitamin B12, etc.
Outcomes vary from improvement to no improvement. There are so many variables here: age of exposure, amount of exposure, type of exposure, genetic ability to handle the exposure, route of exposure, and more. Regardless of the specifics on the variables, we know that we are trying to eliminate, to the best of our ability and as safely as possible, heavy metals.
Two current obstacles remain. One is that many of the metals’ preferred sites to “land” is the fatty tissues of the body, including the brain. Current chelators are water soluble and reaching into the fat can be very difficult. The second obstacle is having the chelators cross the blood-brain barrier. That is, actually getting the chelating agent into the brain to remove heavy metals there. There is no denying that many children improve with chelation, somehow in some manner that we just may not fully understand.
Chelation should only be done with an experienced physician!