History of chelation therapy

Chelation Therapy: A Brief History

Chelation therapy involves administering a patient with an intravenous injection to help rid them of certain toxic metals, such as lead.

The word is derived from the Greek ‘chelos’ which means ‘claw’ and describes the pincer-like action of charged ions that are used to remove toxic substances from the body.

Chelation is used widely within various manufacturing industries for many years, most notably to remove unwanted elements such as calcium from dye.

While it was originally derided by medical science because of safety and efficacy concerns, in recent times it has become highly regarded as an effective therapy. Here we take a brief look at chelation therapy history, who it can benefit and how it works.

Chelation therapy infographic

How Does Chelation Therapy Work and Who Does It Benefit?

Chelators are chemicals that typically bind to metals in the bloodstream. Once this happens, the new chemical is transported to the kidneys and excreted through the urine. One of the main ways that chelation is used in medical practice is to remove toxic heavy metals such as lead, copper and mercury due to poisoning.

Chelation therapy generally uses a chemical known as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA). The process can take up to four hours and involves numerous IV injections over several weeks. To produce an effect, it’s often necessary to administer 20 or more chelations.

Heavy metals can get into the body in a variety of ways. They may be ingested through contaminated water or through certain paints that contain lead. If someone has a health issue related to the kidneys, certain metals such as aluminium can build up causing illness.

Some people suffer from hemochromatosis, where the body absorbs too much iron from food. Some conditions require regular blood transfusions such as thalassemia which can lead to a build-up of the metal.

There are other health issues for which chelation therapy can help with, such as arteriosclerosis, whereby this form of therapy can help to remove plaque in the arteries.

The History of Chelation Therapy

The roots of chelation therapy history stretch back to the late 19th century when Alfred Werner discovered the process. The first patent for EDTA wasn’t filed until the mid-1930s, however, and this was initially for use in the textile industry.

In America, the first biological effects of chelation were explored in the early 1940s. Martin Ruben noted its effect on calcium homeostasis and that later led to its use as an anticoagulant. It was also popularly used to treat lead poisoning.

The relationship with treating heart disease was discovered a few years later when the improvement in cardio patients who were also being treated for lead poisoning was noticed. There were downsides to treatment at this time as one study found that too high doses of disodium EDTA could cause kidney damage. This led to new protocols to improve the administration of the treatment.

A leading proponent of chelation therapy in medicine was Dr Marvin Seven. Unfortunately he was killed in a motoring accident during the height of his research being conducted.

Around this time, a new piece of research in the 1960s concerning the use of chelation for treating heart disease was released, highlighting negative results of the treatment. It served as a warning that chelation should no longer be pursued as a medical approach. A later review, however, found there were errors in the conclusions of this research.

Since then, there has been evidence of improvements in cardiovascular health following chelation therapy. In the 1970s, a new organization The American Institute of Medical Preventics actively promoted chelation therapy and its safe administration.

In the 1980s we saw more research concerning the beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system including increased blood flow and improved lung function.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that a large Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT) was undertaken. The therapy, however, was becoming more and more popular with the general public. In 2001 in the USA alone, some 800,000 infusions were carried out.

The TACT study eventually ended in the early part of the 2010s and did indeed show that there were beneficial effects of chelation when treating patients with myocardial infarction.

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