Introduction to Chelation Therapy

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Chelation therapy is the process of removing from the body the undesirable ionic material by the infusion, or taking orally, of an organic compound which has suitable chelating properties. The word chelation is derived from the Greek word chele that means claw (like that of a scorpion or crab). The concept of chelation is based on the observation that when a certain amino acid complex called EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetra-acetic acid) comes in contact with certain positively charged metals and other substances such as lead, iron, copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, plutonium and manganese, it grabs them (hence the chele or claw), and removes them.

EDTA is a synthetic amino acid first used in the 1940's for treatment of heavy metal poisoning. It is widely recognized as effective for that use as well as certain others, including emergency treatment of hypercalcemia and the control of ventricular arrhythmias associated with digitalis toxicity. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council in the late 1960's indicated that EDTA was considered possibly effective in the treatment of occlusive vascular disorders caused by arteriosclerosis. EDTA grabs metallic cation such as Lead or Calcium from the body and forms a stable compound that is then excreted from the system. The stability of this bond is vital to success in chelation therapy. If the bond is weak, other chemicals can break this bond to form their own compounds.

One way to think about the chelation process is to compare it to the way we unclog our drains. We add a chemical to our drain. It dissolves the blockage. The resulting compound is removed from the drain using the existing plumbing system. Chelation process works in a similar manner on our body.

Chelation Process Is Very Common in Nature

Our human digestive process is a very good example of how chelation takes place. Digestion and assimilation of foods involves the chelation of protein substances (amino acids) with minerals for transportation to their destinations, or in which blood cells latch on to, and thus acquire, iron. Hemoglobin is a chelate of iron (as is the enzyme catalase, that is used by our bodies to 'switch off' the free radical activity of hydrogen peroxide). When you eat meat or green vegetables which contain iron, after the digestive process has released the iron from the food in which it is bound, it has to be combined (chelated) with amino acids so that it can be carried through the intestinal mucous membranes into the bloodstream.

If you drink tea with your meal, the tannin in the tea will chelate with the iron (forming insoluble iron tannate) before it gets absorbed. In this case, the body does not get any iron from your food. On the other hand, if we take some foods which are rich in Vitamin C (or take Vitamin C supplement) with our iron rich meal, the ascorbic acid (or Vitamin C) will chelate with the iron and enhance and speed its absorption. The iron, once in the bloodstream, is released from the proteins with which it was chelated for transportation.

What Are The Benefits of Chelation Therapy?

Chelation therapy is widely used for the treatment of atherosclerosis and other chronic degenerative diseases involving the circulatory system. It also has other benefits. Many scientists suggest that the beneficial effect of chelation treatment is from the removal of metallic catalysts that causes excessive free radical proliferation. This reduces the oxidation of lipids, DNA, enzyme systems and lipoproteins. The chelation halts the bad effects and initiates the body's healing process, often reversing the damage. It removes the calcium and copper anions from the blood stream. The plaque lining the artery walls are made porous and brittle. Eventually they may get dislodged. Even if only a microscopic layer of the plaque is removed, it, along with a smoothening of the artery wall due to the healing of the cells that line the arteries, can improve the blood flow to the artery muscles substantially. This can prevent artery spasm and minimize or prevent angina pain. Many patients who could not walk due to muscle pain or angina pain have reported that they can walk without pain after chelation therapy.

We will examine how chelation therapy works.

Reduces Free Radical Activity in The Blood

We can think of our cells in the body as miniature factories. Inside the cell, the digestive process is going on. That means converting the raw materials into energy and protein compounds. Like in a factory, there are mechanisms to transport material within the cell as well as mechanisms to transport material to and from the cell. In our body, these mechanisms are performed by complex enzyme activity.

The skin that surrounds a cell controls what goes in and what goes out of it. (It is like the shipping and receiving department in a factory.) The active cell membrane is made up of lipids (Cholesterol), proteins and water.

As explained in "The Story of Free Radicals" below, free radicals can cause lipid peroxidation (fat becomes rancid). Like in the factory example, if the shipping and receiving department is not functioning properly, it can cause chaos; the whole factory will go out of synch. It does not get raw materials in time or cannot ship out waste products and finished products out. In the body, this is the beginning of the cell degeneration. (In case of factory, it will go out of business.)

This is what happens when atherosclerosis begins in an artery wall. The majority of lipid peroxidation activity involves the presence of metal ions such as iron, copper or calcium. EDTA effectively locks onto these ions, preventing their destructive action. Proponents of Chelation Therapy claim that EDTA can reduce the production of free radicals by up to a million-fold!

Research over the past 30 years has confirmed the benefits of EDTA. This protective influence of EDTA would be enhanced by an appreciable presence of antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E, selenium, and amino acid complexes such as glutathione peroxidase. These not only mop up free radicals but also assist in reinforcing the stability of cell membranes.

The Story of Free Radicals

Free radicals are the highly unstable chemicals that attack, infiltrate, and injure vital cell structures. Most stable chemical compounds in the body possess a pair of electrons. Sometimes, one member of the electron pair gets stripped away. The resulting compound (that is short of one electron) is called a free radical.

In chemistry, the term free radical means that it is now free to combine with another element to form a new stable compound. One way to think of free radical is the way our social system work. In a family there is husband and wife. They are joined together. Both are "tied up" or not available for other partners. Let us assume that they get 'separated'. Now we have two "free" persons who are looking for other partners to partner with. The way free radicals work, one of these free spouse go and break up a stable marriage of another couple, by joining with one of the spouses. This results in the ouster of a person from that family creating a brand new "free radical" who goes around prowling to find another "compound" to attack. You can see that free radicals can do lot of harm by forming a chain reaction.

A similar thing happens with free radicals in the body. When a free radical is born, it goes around the body looking for another compound to steal an electron from. This breaks up the "contented" couple, that results in releasing another free radical, and so on. While on the prowl, these free radicals (which are really the oxidation products from the body) can do tremendous damage to the delicate machinery of your cells. The most studied free radical chain reaction in living things is lipid peroxidation. (The term lipid refers to any fat-soluble substance, animal or vegetable. Peroxidation means the formation of a peroxide molecule. These are the molecules with the greatest proportion of oxygen molecules. For example, a water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Hydrogen peroxide has two Hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms. In other words, there is an excess oxygen atom in a hydrogen peroxide molecule.)

Ninety eight percent of the oxygen we breathe is used by tiny powerhouses within our cells called mitochondria, that convert sugar, fats and inorganic phosphate by combining with oxygen into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the universal form of energy we need to live. This energy producing activity of the mitochondria involves a series of intricate, complex and vital biochemical processes that depends on vast numbers of enzymes (estimates vary from 500 to 10,000 sets of oxidative enzymes). These, in turn, depends on dozens of nutrient factors and co-factors. In this metabolism process, a very small amount of left over oxygen loses electrons, creating free radicals. These free radicals burn holes in our cellular membranes. Calcium penetrate our cells through these holes. This excess calcium results in cell death. This, in turn, weakens tissues and organs. As this damage continues, our body become "rusty", less able to fight other invaders such as cancer, hardening of the arteries, premature aging, and other bodily disorders.

Because of the amount of oxygen we breathe every day (our bodies take 630 quadrillion damaging oxygen hits per day, each of our cells takes about 10,000 hits per day and each DNA strand in the cell gets hit 5,000 times per day. This free radical bombardment causes a typical human cell to undergo thousands of changes or mutations daily. If a DNA strand gets hit and is not repaired before its twin gets hit, we will have the onset of a potentially lethal cancer.

In addition to the oxygen we breathe, the free radicals can also come from such things as environmental pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, chemicals, and herbicides.

The key to having a healthy body is to repair the damages caused by the free radicals before it is too late, and to protect the body's tissue cells from the free radicals before they cause mutations. Antioxidants are substances that have free-radical chain-reaction-breaking properties. Like a bouncer, the antioxidants deactivate potentially dangerous free radicals before they can damage a cells' machinery. Most of these antioxidants come from plants and are called phytochemicals. More than 60,000 of such plant chemicals are identified. Among the most effective and dedicated antioxidants are Vitamin A, C, and E (known as the ACE trio.). Out of these, Vitamin C is the most powerful.

Each cell produces its own antioxidants. But the ability to produce them decreases as we age. That is why our diet should supply anti-oxidants, phytochemicals ( fruits and vegetables are a good source for this.) and additional vitamins and minerals.

Blocks Calcium Absorption, Repairs Damaged Muscles, Improves the Cell Energy Production

We have seen that calcium passes through the damaged cell walls into the cells. If calcium gets deposited in arterial walls, it inhibits the enzyme activity which, in turn, affects the production of energy, the movement of raw material, finished products, and waste products from the cell. The cells become energy starved and become acidic as a result. This can lead to premature aging, unbalanced calcium/magnesium ratios, free radical activity, local toxicity, oxygen deficit, nutritional imbalance, etc.

The cells that have become energy starved and acidic start to attract calcium ions, drawing them into the cell. This, further, blocks energy production. The result is degenerative cardiovascular conditions. When this happens, the muscles that surround the arteries go into spasm. Doctors start treating this problem with calcium channel blockers. The problem is that calcium channel blockers block the calcium intake by the muscles; but it does nothing to cure the underlying problems of cell damage.

This process gets really out of hand in the presence of additional Vitamin D and cholesterol. Free radicals helps to convert the cholesterol into substances with Vitamin D activity. This produces plaque, which, in turn, attracts calcium cementing the material.

How does EDTA infusion affect this scenario? First, EDTA removes the toxic metal ions such as lead, calcium, mercury, cadmium, copper, iron, and aluminum from the blood stream. These are necessary for the production of free radicals. By removing the extra calcium from the blood stream, there is no more free calcium available to produce plaque. It means that the cells can start to repair themselves. Their production of energy increases. As more and more cells rebuild, our body becomes healthier. They can ward off intruders. The result is that we have started a salvage and regeneration activity that repairs previously damaged muscles and heart. And the whole body benefits as a result.

Reduces Blood Stickiness or Clotting

EDTA is believed to reduce the blood platelet formation. This makes the blood less "sticky. The blood can now flow through narrow arteries. It can flow through even partially blocked arteries minimizing the effect of the blockage.

Normalizes Abnormal Cholesterol and HDL Levels

There are two types of cholesterol: the good cholesterol called HDL and the bad cholesterol called LDL. What we want is a high amount of HDL in our blood along with a low level of LDL. We also desire a low total cholesterol. Researchers have found that EDTA infusion, combined with vitamin and mineral supplements, raised the good (HDL) cholesterol and lowered the bad (LDL) cholesterol. If the HDL was low, it was raised; however, if it was already high, its level remains the same. Similarly, the LDL was lowered if it was high. EDTA optimizes the ratio of HDL and LDL.

Removes Calcium from the Plaque

EDTA infusion removes the calcium from the blood stream. In a chemical reaction, if you have an area low in concentration of a substance surrounded by an area that is rich in that substance, the substance will diffuse from the enriched area to that which is depleted of it ultimately leveling the concentration. The same thing happens to our body. When the blood is cleaned off the calcium, the calcium from the plaque and the body tissues (That is enriched with it) migrate into the blood. This gets swept away by the new EDTA infusion. This has the effect of removing most of the calcium from the plaque, making it softer and possibly even breaking away chunks of it from the artery walls.

Many people are concerned that this calcium intake may come from the bones rather than from the plaque and body tissues. Chelation therapists strongly suggest that this is not so.

Cancer Treatment

Free radicals play an important role in the genesis of cancer. By removing the metallic anions from the blood stream, EDTA helps the cells to remain healthy and helps the damaged cells to heal. Research has shown a decrease in the incidence of death by cancer after EDTA treatment. We don't know the mechanism of action. In some forms of cancer, the use of EDTA was found to strip the tumor cells of their protective coat, allowing other mechanisms (such as protein digesting enzymes) to destroy the tumors.

Mental Health

Researchers have noticed that patients who have undergone chelation treatment are less depressed. They were more alert, and had better concentration and memory. Opponents of chelation therapy dismisses this as "placebo effect."

Chelation therapists attribute this improvement in mental health to an improvement in the overall cellular nutrition as a result of better circulation resulted from the chelation treatment. Another possibility is that by removing the harmful toxins from the blood stream, the brain and central nervous system are protected from harmful effects of these toxins. This improves the overall functioning of the brain that translates into better memory and mental conditions.

Other Benefits

Reduction of fatigue in patients who have undergone chelation therapy is another important benefit of chelation therapy. Other improvements are in the reduction of neurological symptoms, cardiovascular symptoms, skin conditions, respiratory symptoms, gastrointestinal, genital and urinary symptoms.

It is only fair to say that in some cases, the benefits attributed to EDTA infusion may be from the adaptation of healthy ways of living prompted by the therapists. For example, the therapists ask their patients to quit smoking, lose weight, exercise regularly, take vitamins and mineral supplements, all of which will have a positive effect on the health. What is quite clear, though, is the effect of chelation therapy on the scooping away of toxins and the metal ions from the blood stream and its effect of reducing the free radical formation or damage from it. This has a great effect on many aspects of our life, something both proponents and opponents of chelation treatment agree. More at Holistic Online.

A Textbook on EDTA Chelation Therapy by Dr Linus Pauling

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