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What is Lead Chelation?

By Eric Stolze
Updated May 17, 2024
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Chelation therapy is a form of medical treatment that doctors may prescribe to patients with several types of heavy metal poisoning. Lead chelation is chelation therapy that is used by people who suffer from lead poisoning. The process of lead chelation typically uses a chemical or a drug that binds with lead in a patient’s body. In most cases, chelated lead is removed from the body during urination. The human body is normally unable to break down lead and other heavy metals without the help of chelation therapy.

Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid, or EDTA, is a chemical that is commonly used for lead chelation. This chemical also binds with other heavy metals such as iron, mercury and cadmium and promotes their removal from the body. Patients may experience some serious health complications from EDTA chelation therapy such as irregular heartbeats, kidney damage or vein swelling. In some instances, lead chelation therapy removes calcium from the body and causes hypocalcemia, or damage to a patient’s bones. The immune system can become impaired, and insulin production may be reduced in individuals who receive EDTA chelation treatment.

Lead poisoning usually occurs when a person inhales lead dust or ingests objects that contain lead. Excessive amounts of lead in the body can damage the brain and nervous system and are typically harmful to children with developing nervous systems. Children can have difficulty with learning, hearing and behavior as a result of high levels of lead in the body. Stunted growth may also occur with children who have lead poisoning.

People who ingest lead have experienced abdominal pain, irritability and sleep problems in some cases. Constipation, headaches and reduced appetite may also develop in people who have lead poisoning. Individuals who ingest extremely high levels of lead can have problems with walking, and they may develop muscle weakness or vomiting. Seizures and comas have also developed in some people due to high levels of lead in their bodies.

Physicians may use prescription drugs instead of EDTA during lead chelation treatment. Penicillamine is a drug that is typically administered orally in capsule or tablet form. This drug may be crushed and taken with liquids or with foods such as applesauce or jelly. Patients with lead poisoning usually take penicillamine for several months in order to remove toxic levels of lead from the body. Chemet is another drug that physicians may prescribe for lead chelation therapy.

Some people have used chelation therapy to treat cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions. Researchers have not found chelation therapy to be generally effective for any medical conditions besides heavy metal poisoning. Chelation can also remove zinc from the body. Zinc is an important mineral in the human body, and low zinc levels may increase the likelihood of cell mutations or cancer in an individual who has this mineral deficiency.

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