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EDTA chelation, or chelation therapy, is primarily known as a treatment for heavy metal poisoning. The letters "EDTA" stand for the chemical solution ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid. It is a chelating agent, which means that its molecular structure allows it to bind to heavy metals. This treatment can be used to remove numerous metals from the blood, including lead, cadmium, tin, mercury, aluminum, chromium, manganese, zinc and arsenic.
A patient typically receives EDTA intravenously. The body is unable to metabolize heavy metals by itself, so the chelating agent is necessary to remove them from the body. In the bloodstream, it forms a compound with the metals in the blood, and this compound can then pass out of the body in the urine. One EDTA chelation treatment can last anywhere from one to four hours, and patients might require as few as five or as many as 30 treatments.
EDTA chelation is approved by the Food and Drug Administration only to treat heavy metal poisoning, but there is some controversy regarding possible usage for other medical conditions. Some medical practitioners have argued for the use of EDTA chelation to treat atherosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries. As of early 2010, there was no scientific evidence to support the efficacy of chelation therapy for this condition.
Some proponents of EDTA chelation also claim that it can be used to treat people with cancer. They theorize that it can remove environmental toxins from the blood and reduce cell damage. There was no scientific evidence to support these claims.
Chelation therapy also is sometimes used to treat children with autism. Some individuals and medical practitioners theorize that autism is caused, in part, by excess mercury in the blood. Proponents of the theory believe that EDTA chelation can be used to remove the mercury and perhaps cure the autism. No scientific evidence supported the use of chelation therapy to treat autism, and inappropriate methods might be dangerous.
There are numerous risks associated with EDTA chelation. Some individuals have an allergic reaction to the treatment, and serious complications can occur. The treatment can cause low blood pressure, low blood sugar, seizures, respiratory arrest, kidney failure, cardiac arrhythmia, severely low calcium levels or damage to the organs. Some people have died because of renal failure or decreased calcium levels after chelation therapy. Side effects that are less serious include irritation at the injection site, headache and nausea.