Chelation Therapy and Mental Health

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Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a therapist, researcher and author with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Doctorate in Naturopathy. Dr. Fredricks works ...Read More

What is Chelation Therapy?

Chelation therapy is a medical procedure that involves the administration of chelating agents to bind and eliminate specific heavy metals from the bloodstream. This therapy is primarily used for heavy metal poisoning and has shown promise in certain mental health conditions where heavy metal toxicity is a suspected contributing factor.

Quick Facts:

  • Developed in the mid-20th century, primarily for lead poisoning.
  • FDA-approved for specific types of metal poisoning; the use in mental health treatments is still under investigation.

Over the past few decades, chelation therapy has become an increasingly popular treatment for a variety of mental health issues. However, this increasing popularity comes amidst scientific debate and regulatory scrutiny. While some practitioners and patients report positive outcomes, particularly in cases where heavy metal toxicity is implicated in mental health conditions, the scientific community remains divided on its efficacy and safety.

The FDA has approved chelation therapy for treating heavy metal poisoning, but its use for mental health conditions is not officially endorsed and remains largely off-label.

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Understanding Chelation Therapy

Chelation involves using various agents to remove heavy metals, including chemical compounds. Synthetic chemicals, such as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), are administered intravenously or orally into the blood, where they then bind with the unwanted elements and leave the body through urination. Oral chelation, while less expensive and more convenient, works considerably slower than the intravenous method. Alternative health practitioners, such as naturopaths, also use natural chelating agents like garlic, vitamin C, zinc, and amino acids. 

Chelation therapy has been used for a number of mental health problems based on the belief that heavy metals — such as mercury and lead — are neurotoxic. Scientists have suggested that heavy metal poisoning plays a role in the pathogenesis of autism, attention disorder, bipolar disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia. 

Scientific Evidence and Efficacy

A 2007 review of several studies suggested that chelation was an effective means for removing heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, in Alzheimer’s patients, ultimately improving outcomes. A similar review in 2008 concluded that chelation was an effective treatment for both autism and ADHD. Vitamin C in combination with chelation using EDTA has been used to remove vanadium and lessen the symptoms of depression in bipolar patients.Vanadium is a trace mineral that can aggravate bipolar disorder.

Based on research indicating that even moderate levels of lead are toxic in people with central nervous system dysfunctions, chelation has gained popularity in treating autism and ADHD. In one study, children with hyperactivity and elevated levels of lead were treated with a lead chelating agent. Significant behavioral improvement was reported, suggesting a toxic association between moderately elevated lead levels and hyperactivity.

In 2005, an estimated 10,000 autistic children were treated with chelation therapy. By 2007, that number had risen to over 72,000.

Chelation Therapy for Cardiovascular Disease 

The most promising use of chelation may be in treating and preventing cardiovascular disease. In 2012, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute sponsored the first large-scale, multicenter clinical trial on chelation therapy in people with coronary heart disease. Although the results were promising, the results received a great deal of criticism.

The Chelation Therapy Debate

Although some researchers look favorably on chelation therapy for the removal of heavy metals in autistic children, many call into question its safety. Chelation therapy has numerous opponents, most notably the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). While chelation is approved by the FDA, the bureau issued warnings against the use of over the counter chelation preparations in both 2010 and 2014. The form of chelation approved by the FDA is intravenous only available by prescription.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Chelation therapy has been associated with serious side effects, including potentially severe liver and kidney damage.

During chelation therapy, patients might experience various side effects. These depend on the individual’s health and the type of chelating agent used. Common side effects include:

  • Fatigue: Feeling unusually tired or weak.
  • Headache: Mild to moderate headaches.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Dizziness: Lightheadedness or vertigo.
  • Skin irritations: Rashes or irritation, particularly at the injection site for IV therapy.
  • Low blood pressure: Temporary drops in blood pressure.
  • Fever or chills: Mild flu-like symptoms.
  • Muscle cramps: Occasional muscle discomfort or cramping.

It’s important for patients to discuss these potential side effects with their healthcare provider before starting therapy and to report any adverse reactions that occur during treatment.

Many traditional medical sources, such as the Mayo Clinic warn against the use of chelation in treating psychiatric disorders. There have been a number of deaths due to chelation, mostly with children. In August 2005, a 5-year-old autistic boy died while undergoing chelation, and two nonautistic children died during chelation in August of 2003 and February of 2005. All three deaths were attributed to cardiac arrest caused by hypocalcemia during chelation.

What to Expect During Chelation Therapy

Because of the potential health risks, patients should consult with a medical doctor before considering chelation. The doctor can help identify alternative treatment options and local resources that provide appropriate support.

Patients can expect the following:

  • Administration methods: Chelation therapy is usually administered intravenously or orally, with the method chosen based on effectiveness and patient needs.
  • Initial assessment: Involves medical and possibly psychological evaluations to assess heavy metal levels and mental health status.
  • Treatment protocols: Duration and frequency of sessions are tailored to individual needs, with treatments potentially lasting several weeks to months.
  • Monitoring and adjustments: Regular monitoring of heavy metal levels and health markers, with adjustments to therapy as needed.
  • Potential side effects: Possible side effects range from mild symptoms like headache and nausea to more severe ones such as kidney damage.
  • Aftercare and follow-up: Essential post-treatment check-ups to ensure effective heavy metal reduction and address any long-term health issues.


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