Friday, June 10, 2005

Word of Mouth

While it remains controversial, chelation therapy has been used for more than 60 years to clear the body of heavy metals, such as lead, in order to cleanse the body of their toxins. However, doctors and patients noticed almost immediately that it seemed to improve cardiovascular health as well. Today, it has become popular for that purpose. After that article appeared, many readers wrote in asking for information about oral chelation. Proponents advocate its use for cardiovascular health in particular, and it is theoretically a more convenient form of chelation therapy. With intravenous (IV) chelation therapy, patients must go once a week for an IV drip that lasts about three hours. The average number of IV treatments runs from 20 to 40. With oral chelation therapy, however, people take between three and 20 capsules every day, which contain some EDTA (the amino acid delivered intravenously in standard chelation therapy) but also a number of other ingredients, such as garlic, niacin and vitamin B-6. Patients continue taking the capsules throughout their life for enhanced health. Although on the surface it seems that taking pills would be far easier and cheaper than extended IV treatments, the real question is, is it effective? For answers on oral chelation, I first talked with my original source, Allan Magaziner, DO, coauthor of four books on natural cures for cardiac problems and current president of American College for the Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). He responded that it would be a mistake to compare the effects of oral chelation with IV chelation for cardiovascular benefits. The body absorbs only 5% of the EDTA that is in oral therapy, which he says is too small an amount to be effective. He adds that the capsules may have some good antioxidants and that the EDTA may remove some heavy metals from the bloodstream, but there is no scientific evidence that the therapy has any cardiovascular benefit. Dr. Magaziner also said that a few doctors feel oral chelation is helpful for clearing heavy metal poisoning, but most doctors feel its effects are too mild to be useful. I then called Elmer M. Cranton, MD, former president of ACAM as well as of the American Holistic Medicine Association and a longtime proponent of chelation therapy. He also is most assuredly not in favor of oral chelation. Indeed, he has serious concerns about its efficacy and safety. Not only does the body not absorb oral EDTA well, he says, but even if it did, the amount of it in oral preparations is so small that it couldn't possibly do its job. Although oral chelation might rid some metal from the blood, that is not how chelation assists cardiovascular health, said Dr. Cranton. EDTA pulls a variety of toxins out of the cells, but there must be a high concentration of EDTA to achieve this -- much higher than what is in oral chelation pills. Many of Dr. Cranton's concerns about oral chelation have to do with the way in which oral chelation works versus IV chelation. Chelating means "to bind" -- for instance, when you see on supplement labels that a mineral is chelated, this means it has been bound to amino acids to improve absorption. If the body can absorb only 5% of the EDTA taken by mouth, this leaves 95% of it roaming the digestive tract. Dr. Cranton's concern is that this free EDTA then chelates, or binds, to vital nutrients, such as zinc and manganese, making them unavailable for the body to use. In traditional IV chelation, EDTA is in the body for short bursts once a week and then clears. This takes place generally about 30 times. In oral chelation, however, the patient takes many capsules a day, every day for a lifetime. He worries that this will leave people chronically depleted of many nutrients. Oral chelation proponents claim that this is not a problem because EDTA is FDA-approved for use in foods as a preservative. Dr. Cranton rebuts this with the fact that only tiny amounts -- much less than what a person gets from the capsule therapy -- are used in foods. Dr. Cranton said that he cannot prove that the EDTA in oral chelation binds nutrients and makes them unavailable, but it is reasonable to think that it does. His concern about this issue and oral chelation overall is that there is no scientific evidence to show that it is safe or to establish that it is effective. He has spent years gathering scientific evidence on the positive effects of IV chelation on cardiovascular health, and he is delighted that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is conducting a study on this issue. After fighting for decades to show that IV chelation is an effective tool for treating cardiovascular problems, he is concerned that oral chelation, which has no scientific proof supporting it, will give critics a bandwagon to jump on for negating the real cardiovascular benefits of IV chelation. Should you want to pursue IV chelation, be certain to seek the care of an ACAM-trained chelation expert, and have your general practitioner monitor the results for both benefits and risks. Keep in mind that it can take months to notice the benefits of chelation therapy. As for my reader friends who asked about oral chelation... it may be easier, but it also may be risky and ineffective.

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