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
Over the past few decades, chelation therapy has become an increasingly popular treatment for a variety of mental health issues. 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. Get a clear picture of your mental health with a free mental health quiz.
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.
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In 2005, an estimated 10,000 autistic children were treated with chelation therapy. By 2007, that number had risen to over 72,000. 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). Although 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.
Chelation therapy has been associated with serious side effects, including potentially severe liver and kidney damage. 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.
The most promising use of chelation may 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.
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.
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