Oral chelation therapy is a treatment used to rid the body of toxins. The patient swallows a chelating agent, which binds to the toxins. Over time, the toxins are expelled from the body. Oral chelation is a relatively new therapy and evidence about its efficacy is limited. Like the more well-known intravenous chelation, there are side effects associated with this therapy.
What Is Chelation?
Chelation therapy is used to treat heavy metal poisoning, hypercalcemia (build-up of calcium in the body), digitalis toxicity and vascular problems associated with heart disease. There are two types of chelation: intravenous and oral. Oral chelation typically involves consuming a liquid or pills that contain a chelating agent. This chemical binds to toxins in the body and the resulting compound is excreted from the body. Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is one of the most common chelating agents.
Chelation therapy uses a chemical solution, such as EDTA to bind to harmful substances in the body in order to remove them from the bloodstream. Chelation has been used since the 1940s to treat heavy metal poisoning from mercury, lead and cadmium. Research in the 1960s indicated the possible use of chelation to treat clogged arteries.
Chelation for Atherosclerosis
About 100,000 people each year receive EDTA chelation for atherosclerosis, the medical term for hardening of the arteries, and other vascular disorders. However, this application of EDTA chelation has not been approved by the FDA and clinical studies have not proved its effectiveness. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is conducting a five-year, $30 million study to determine if chelation is an efficacious treatment for symptoms of heart disease.
Oral Chelation vs. Intravenous Chelation
Intravenous chelation has been used for decades to treat heavy metal poisoning. Oral chelation is a newer form of therapy and much of the evidence to support it is anecdotal. In one study from the University of Göteberg, Sweden, oral chelation with penicillamine (PCA) was as effective as intravenous chelation with Calcium Disodium Versenate (Ca-EDTA) in most cases of lead poisoning. Severe cases, however, required intravenous therapy. Oral chelation using Ca-EDTA did not produce good results and the Ca-EDTA-lead compound that resulted appeared to be absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract.
During chelation, toxins exit the body in urine, feces and sweat, and fluids and nutrients are excreted with the toxins. Therefore, most of the side effects of oral chelation are related to the loss of fluids and nutrients. Some patients may experience fatigue due to a loss of nutrients during the process of chelation. Low blood sugar and dehydration can cause headaches. Cramping may occur and is likely caused by a loss of magnesium or dehydration due to excess sweating. Depleted zinc or vitamin B-6 levels can result in skin irritation. Convulsions or joint pain may occur if the dosage of the chelating agent is too high.
Chelating agents can interfere with some medications and decrease vitamins and minerals in the body. Severe depletion of certain nutrients, such as calcium, can result in dire consequences. Chelation can be fatal if the body experiences a large drop in calcium, a condition known as hypocalcemia.