In last week’s Health Tip I reviewed the well-researched health dangers of environmental toxic metals (also called heavy metals). They’ve always been a serious health risk, but with the Trump Administration’s recent rollbacks of clean air and water regulations we can expect even more trouble ahead.
Statisticians predict an astonishing 160,000 unnecessary deaths over the next decade from the reversals of clean air and water protections. The total number of pollution-related chronic illnesses–manifesting as breathing difficulties, skin cancers, liver and kidney dysfunction, cognitive decline, and so forth–is pretty much beyond calculation.
That cough you can’t seem to clear? Probably some junk in the air that’s getting stored in your lungs.
Lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum
The toxic metals that have been well studied as disease-causing are lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and aluminum. I recommended getting yourself tested if you have unexplained chronic symptoms or any history of exposure. Just ask your family doctor to order a “toxic metal screen,” to include the metals listed above. Read more about this and the provoked testing I describe just below in last week’s Health Tip.
Your test results should show levels very close to zero. If they don’t, get retested after a provoked test, a simple procedure that unlocks the toxins from your vital organs and sends them to your urine so your levels of toxic metals can be accurately gauged.
If your family doctor is unfamiliar with the provoking process, you can schedule with us or look for a doctor who practices functional medicine.
To rid yourself completely of your toxic metal load, you need to undergo chelation (pronounced key-LAY-shun) therapy. Intravenous chelation therapy using EDTA (ethylene diamine tetra acetic acid) is a respected and widely used, FDA-approved medical treatment for heavy-metal poisoning (especially lead poisoning). It’s been in use for more than 50 years.
By the way, the word chelation comes from the Greek “chela” or “claw” because the EDTA molecule acts like a claw to remove and discard the toxic metal.
For chelation treatment, EDTA is administered intravenously. The EDTA travels throughout your body, gathering up molecules of lead, arsenic, and aluminum from various organs.
EDTA also works for elevated levels of mercury, but there’s evidence that oral DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid), the same agent used in the provocation test, is a little better for this. Thus, when there’s a large toxic load of several metals, both EDTA and DMSA are infused. Depending on the degree of toxicity, treatments occur weekly for about 12 to 16 weeks.
EDTA chelation controversial in the 1950s
EDTA was first used medically in the 1940s to treat workers from battery factories who had developed lead poisoning. In the early 1950s, Norman Clarke, Sr., MD, director of research at Providence Hospital in Detroit, was using EDTA for lead poisoning and found that his patients reported less pain from angina (chest pain due to blocked coronary arteries). In addition, they noted improved memory, an increase in energy, and better vision, hearing, and smell.
Word of this unexpected benefit from intravenous EDTA spread rapidly, especially after publication of bestsellers like Forty Something Forever and Bypassing Bypass Surgery. Heart disease was very much on the rise during the latter half of the 20th century and the go-to treatment for angina (chest pain) was coronary bypass surgery.
When the apparent nonsurgical option of EDTA chelation became available, the public responded enthusiastically. Physician-directed chelation centers opened around the world, advertising its benefits for preventing and treating heart disease, peripheral vascular disease (blockage in the legs), and the mental deterioration of small strokes.
Interestingly, as of today amazon carries 197 titles on chelation therapy.
But how did it work?
At the time, Clarke and other doctors postulated that it was EDTA’s effect on the body’s calcium that might account for the new results. They theorized that, during chelation, the EDTA could be grabbing onto the calcium in the arterial plaque lining blood vessels and removing it, the way it removed lead in poisoning cases.
With the calcium gone, they presumed, the plaque dissolved, circulation improved (not only to the heart, but also to the brain, eyes, and other organs), and patients reported feeling better. One writer at the time even dubbed chelation therapy “a Roto-Rooter for the arteries.” However, x rays and biopsies would later reveal that chelation had no effect whatsoever on calcium within arteries, and this early theory was discounted.
A second, more widely accepted theory–and one that continues to be popular–suggests that, by removing toxic metals the EDTA also removed a significant source of destructive oxygen molecules known as free radicals.
With free-radical production slowed, the arteries could heal, shedding their plaque and reducing the symptoms of heart disease. Today, antioxidant supplements are thought to play such a key role in mopping up free radicals that they’re added to the chelation IV to enhance the effects of EDTA. In other words, during an EDTA IV, you’re literally bathed in a bouillabaisse of antioxidants.
In response to the widespread acceptance of EDTA chelation, about ten years ago the federal government decided to fund some serious research. Did chelation actually successfully treat or prevent heart disease? The answer was a solid “we’re not sure.” Apparently EDTA did not prevent progression in someone with known heart disease, but did prevent second heart attacks in those who had already had one, especially if they were also diabetic.
Enter the stent
What pretty much sounded the death knell for EDTA chelation as a treatment for heart disease was the coronary artery stent, the tiny expanding screen that’s inserted into coronary arteries to keep them open. Chest pain? Positive stress test results or mild heart attack? Your cardiologist schedules a coronary angiogram, visualizes the area of blockage, and opens it with a stent (click here for a picture).
You’re often discharged the next morning. In the US, 1.8 million stents are inserted annually.
Exit the stent
If you’re actually having a heart attack, inserting a stent will likely save your life. But if you’re just having angina (chest pain with exertion) and even though you may have a visible blockage on an angiogram, recent research shows that inserting a stent will not increase your chances of avoiding a future heart attack any more effectively than medication and all the lifestyle changes that have been recommended for years.
Opening up the visible blockage so that blood can run freely to your heart does look like an attractive answer to relieving symptoms and protecting you from a future heart attack. But the statistics say otherwise.
And yes, this may mean renewed interest in further researching EDTA chelation as a preventive measure for heart disease.
Chelation, a final thought
I realize I’ve veered off course, going from EDTA as treatment for toxic metals to EDTA as treatment for heart disease, but there are several significant issues here:
–Exposure to toxic metals from our very polluted planet is on the increase.
–The fact that our bodies store these toxins indefinitely has serious health consequences.
–Even low levels of toxic metals put us at risk for a variety of serious diseases, most notably heart disease and cancers of the breast and lung.
–Your individual ability to clear toxic metals is probably genetic. If you have a family history with lots of cancers, early heart disease, or early chronic illness in general, I urge you to ask your doctor to test you for toxic metals.
If you’re in the Chicago area and would like a screening test for toxic metals at WholeHealth Chicago, call and schedule “toxic metal testing.” If you’re interested in the provoked toxic metal test, schedule an appointment with one of our practitioners.
David Edelberg, MD