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Chelation Therapy

By Steven Novella, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine

Chelation describes a chemical reaction in which certain molecules bind to metal atoms (such as calcium, copper, iron, or lead). Chelating drugs, such as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), bind with metals so that they can be excreted from the body. Such drugs are commonly used in conventional medicine to treat lead poisoning, iron overdose, and other heavy metal poisonings.

Practitioners of chelation therapy believe that many disorders are caused by having too much of a metal in the body even when people were not exposed to the metal and blood tests do not show high levels of the metal. Thus, they treat many different disorders with chelating drugs.

Medicinal claims

Copper chelation has been studied as a cancer treatment. Chelation therapy with ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is used as a complementary and alternative medicine therapy to remove calcium and thus treat atherosclerosis and help prevent heart attacks and strokes. However, studies suggest that these benefits of chelation therapy are insignificant or nonexistent.

Possible side effects

Side effects of chelation therapy include a low level of calcium, which can be serious and rarely is fatal. Use of chelation therapy may also cause harm by delaying treatment with other, more effective conventional therapies.