Chelation Therapy: The Controversial Medical Marvel

by Gary Null, Ph.D. and Luanne Pennesi, RN, BSN


"Once you keep the immune system in a normal position, the body has tremendous powers of rehabilitation...and even in advanced cases...hopeless cases. . . chelation therapy has proven to be effective."
-Dr. John McDonaugh
When an effective modality becomes available to the public that has been well documented in scientific studies and literature, adopted by a growing number of holistic physicians, is safe, not costly, saves lives and has the raving support from the majority of its recipients, common sense would lead us to believe that it would be made public and supported by those health care institutions who we expect are looking out for our best health interests. So why has chelation therapy, a treatment that meets all of these criteria, being attacked by every major medical group in the country, as well as the FDA? It is time to take a close look at this remarkable alternative to traditional drug and surgical interventions in the treatment of various clinical conditions, not the least of which is cardiovascular disease, but which also includes peripheral vascular disease, cerebrovascular diseases, heavy metal toxicities and diabetes, to name just a few.

Right from the start it must be stressed that chelation, like every other healing modality, by itself, is not a panacea or a cure all for any disease. Being in the "quick fix" society that we are in, though, many people have been programmed to just find someone who will give them the magic cure so they can go on with their lives without making any other changes. Dr. Steven Alsalzar, a board certified physician who uses chelation therapy to treat his patients states, "People aren't in touch with their bodies and the effects that chronic stress has on it, largely because of the heavy amount of advertising by pharmaceutical companies that everything can be fixed in a quick manner. It is inundating...Until the public becomes educated somehow, they will become victims of it." Most physicians who have used chelation therapy combine it with changes in the diet, supplementation with specific vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, as well as changes in lifestyle; most importantly the management of stress and reduction of exposure to harmful substances in the environment.

With this in mind, every aspect of chelation therapy will be explored here, from the mechanisms of action, to the history of its use, to the conditions it has treated (with perspectives from the physicians as well as the patients), to the politics and economics surrounding its use in the medical field today.

What chelation is and how it works
Chelation therapy is a safe, effective and inexpensive alternative to drugs and surgeries and is used to treat illnesses such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and adverse reactions to environmental pollutants. Chelation (key-LAY-shun) comes from the Greek word chele meaning "to claw" or "to bind". Chelation therapy is used to rid the body of unnecessary and toxic metals and is being employed by a growing number of physicians to reverse the process of atherosclerosis through the removal of the calcium content of plaque from the artery walls through the injection of the chelating agent, EDTA. EDTA, or ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid, is a synthetic amino acid that is infused into the body intravenously, usually over a three to four hour period. Often the drip includes the addition of vitamins and minerals. It is administered in the outpatient setting and number of treatments vary based on each person's individual condition and/or goals of treatment. The average therapy is given one to three times a week for twenty to thirty treatments.4 Dr. David Steenblock, the chairperson of The International Oxidative Association, explains, "[EDTA] is a natural substance. It is an amino acid with 4 molecules of acetic acid attached to it. It picks up and binds to it: heavy metals and excretes them through the urine. [EDTA] doesn't enter into the cells, rather it circulates outside the cells and cleanses these areas." Blood vessels exposed to stress and toxins shrink and create small holes into which circulating calcium is deposited. Phospholipids and cholesterol attach onto these "scabs". This is what atherosclerosis is created from.6According to Dr. Michael Schacter, another prominent holistic physician who endorses chelation therapy, EDTA removes heavy metals and calcium from "wrong places" (blood vessels and joints) and stops free radical damage by scavenging certain minerals that are promoting the free radical process. Degenerative diseases seem to be associated with the development of these free radicals which attack cell membranes. It also has an anti-aging property in that it prevents tissues and organs from hardening or stiffening due to calcium deposition which occurs as the tissues aged. So it can also be used preventively. Let's take a closer look.

Dr. Yurkovsky, another outstanding physician in this field, explains: "The linings of the arteries are not just 'pipes' as is often explained to patients. They are lifelike. They consist of 98 different enzyme systems which are supposed to maintain the most important function: to allow the oxygen and nutrients to permeate freely through the linings and into the tissues and heart muscle... Often the degree of arterial disease is mistakenly judged by the size of the blockage...In disease, half of these enzymatic systems are destroyed, which leads to the formation of insoluble complexes being deposited and injuring the intima (inner lining) of the artery... [They are] made of heavy metals, elastin, lipids and mucopolysaccharides. [This] leads to an increase in collagen which is impermeable and a decrease in elastin which increases permeability of the vessels." He goes on to describe the two types of lesions found in the blood vessels. One type is plaque, which is easily seen by cardiac catheterization and angiograms, and the other is diffuse lesions which are calcium deposits behind the lining that cannot be measured by our technology to date. They impair the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle, leading to slow degeneration to the tissue. Over time metabolism changes from aerobic to anaerobic. The byproduct of this is the production of lactic acid, which increases nerve sensitivity and irritability, which is perceived by the brain as anginal pain.

Dr. Chris Calapai, member of the American College of Nutrition and professor of family practice at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, adds to this. "[EDTA] has an affinity for certain heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury, lead, cadmium and calcium. It will bind them and... push them out of the system into the urine. When the calcium is removed from the plaque, [the vessel tissue] becomes softer. With proper diet and supplementation, the plaque regresses and dissolves...As serum calcium decreases, the body responds by secreting parathyroid hormone which will mobilize calcium production in the bone, thereby strengthening it...after about three months of chelation therapy patients show an increase in bone density, making it an indirect treatment for osteoporosis." With regard to free radicals, he adds that the use of chelation therapy also opens up insulin receptor sites, thereby decreasing the body's need for extra secretion of insulin. In patients with peripheral vascular disease, hypertension and carotid artery disease, a pattern of improvement is evident. Blood pressure decreases, atherosclerosis decreases, peripheral circulation increases (thereby increasing the supply of nutrients to the tissues for metabolism and healing), fibrous vessels become pliable and bone density increases. It has actually saved patients from having to have painful and debilitating amputations.

A Brief history of Chelation Therapy
First used in Nazi Germany in 1935 as a replacement for citric acid, it was used in the fabric industry to prevent stains from the calcium present in the hard water. Dr. Schacter notes that during World War II chelating agents (not EDTA) were being used when arsenical gases were being used. We also found that in the 1940's radiation poisoning was well treated with chelating agents, which removed the heavy metals that emitted radioactivity from the body.13At the same time EDTA was being used to remove calcium from pipes and boilers.14 It wasn't until 1948 that EDTA was first used in the treatment of lead poisoning. Since then it has become the premier method of treating lead poisoning as well as other heavy metal toxicities. Interestingly these patients also showed marked improvement in their health; it seemed to eliminate symptoms of atherosclerosis. Dr. Norman Clarke, Director of research at Providence Hospital in Detroit, began research with EDTA while treating lead poisoned auto workers, and noted that after treating several hundred patients with it, reported that "in occlusive vascular disease of the brain there has been uniform relief of vertigo, and the signs of senility, even when advanced, have been significantly relieved...In summary, the treatment of atherosclerotic vascular complications with the chelating agent, EDTA is supported by a large volume of information." Since that article, two medical researchers, Drs. Lawrence and Kitchell, received a grant to study chelation therapy. Their research showed that while patients with vascular disease secondary to diabetes improved, that their improvement was only temporary. Since then, a growing number of highly competent, board certified physicians have continued research on chelation therapy, in spite of the unfavorable responses and lack of support by the traditional medical industry and they continued to find that chelation is a safe, effective, inexpensive, easily administered alternative to surgeries and medication. In fact, it appears to deal with the biochemical causes of diseases such as heart disease due to plaque buildup, heavy metal toxicity, peripheral vascular disease and diabetes, versus dealing with the symptoms alone, as traditional medicine so ineffectively does.

Chelation and cardiovascular diseases
Dr. Serafina Corsello, who has performed chelation therapy for over ten years on hundreds of patients, and receives it herself as a preventive measure, refers to chelation therapy as "a non surgical bypass". She has seen marked improvement with high cholesterol, has seen a decrease in platelet aggregation, a decrease in blood pressure due to the removal of calcium in the vessels and has found that patients can diminish and even eliminate the need for cardiac medications. He has done thermography studies (infrared scans of the face, hands and feet) and circulatory disorders that show up in these areas mean patients are more prone to strokes and peripheral vascular disease. After chelation, he found that the circulation goes back to normal. Another patient had two blocked arteries and after 40 treatments showed no signs of blockage any more. He walks two miles three times a week at 66 years old. His son, who is an MD, told him that it wouldn't work...and even though it did, he still won't recognize it as an effective therapy!

Dr. Kirk Morgan, director of the Morgan Clinic, wrote an article about myocardial ischemia treated with nutrients and chelation therapy. He used the following criteria: patients had to have the presence of exercise induced angina pectoris, stress induced EKG proof of disease and refusal to submit to coronary artery bypass surgery. He found that marked EKG abnormalities became normal and symptoms were relieved over15 months (about 40 treatments).

Dr. Michael Janson, a holistic physician for fifteen years with 8 years experience with chelation therapy, has seen significant results with peripheral vascular disease, healing of leg and foot ulcers (preventing the need for amputation), over 90% of cardiac patients reported relief of angina and got off of traditional medications.

Dr. Dan Roehm, a board certified holistic MD from Florida, states, "There is no technology that compares to the results of chelation therapy. It's so good and inexpensive that those in traditional medicine don't want people to know about it." His patients go on a high complex carbohydrate diet with high fiber, no animal fats or meats and they are encouraged to engage in light exercise based on their individual tolerance. He adds, "The body is a victim of the fuels and substances we put into it. If that connection isn't there, people pop pills. That's the horror of our drug culture. We have a tired and sickly society."

To the degree that occluded blood vessels feeding the body are restricted in blood flow, the vascular system will be deficient in the amount of blood and oxygenation of that blood so that legs and feet can't get the nutrients they need and what results is hypoxia and dying out of these cells. People who risked losing limbs due to gangrene have been saved by chelation therapy. This is well documented. As well, diseased tissues throw off a lot of free radicals. Chelation reduces free radical peroxidation and so slows the premature aging process, helps with cardiovascular disease, decreases incidence of stroke and improves oxygenation of the blood.

Chelation vs. Bypass Surgery and Angioplasty
"In 1988 nearly one million Americans died of cardiovascular disease, making it the number one killer in the United States. Each year nearly 300,000bypass surgeries and 250,000 angioplasties are performed in the United States. Furthermore, nearly twenty thousand deaths occur each year as a result of these procedures." In 1992,Nortin Hadler, MD, professor of Medicine at North Carolina School of Medicine, wrote that none of the 250,000 angioplasties performed the previous year could be justified and that only 3-5% of the 300,000 coronary artery bypass surgeries done the same year were actually indicated. Yet a cost comparison study prepared for the Great Lakes Association of Clinical Medicine in 1993 estimated that $10 billion was spent in 1991 on bypass surgeryalone.29 We also know that there is as much as a 15% mortality rate for people over the age of 65 within the first year of the coronary surgery and an 85% reocclusion rate within the first sixteen months after the operation. This is a highly deadly operation that ultimately doesn't work that is very costly. Yet is it the most common surgery in America. This is more than a double standard; it is a completely separate medical ideology supported by the monies for those who practice it. It's time to consider that neither of these procedures do anything to change the biochemistry behind the arterial degeneration nor do they even consider changes in lifestyle and nutrition to prevent further insult to the vessels.

EDTA chelation therapy has brought relief to more than 93% of patients suffering from ischemic heart disease and it can help avoid bypass surgery in 85% of cases.30  When it is given according to established protocols not one serious side effect has been reported. In fact, thousands of anecdotal stories from patients and physicians support the effectiveness and safety of this relatively inexpensive treatment.

Chelation as the premier treatment of heavy metal toxicity
There are over 60,000 manmade chemicals in our food, air and water. There are over 130 in our food supply alone. These include cadmium, lead, arsenic, mercury, zinc, chromium, copper, nickel and aluminum; they are present in amounts that can lodge in the tissues and interrupt the enzyme activity of that tissue and its basic metabolic function. They are found in the ground and get into our foods; anything treating the water could contain them (fluoride for example); we also find them in the polluted air. Chelation removes these; it is a free radical scavenger, and in effect, the body is then able to rejuvenate itself. It is the only accepted clinical use of EDTA that is recognized by the FDA, oddly enough.

Dr. Serafina Corsello treated a dentist who had chronic exposure to heavy metals who had a thallium stress test, which showed blocked coronary arteries. His doctor encouraged him to have an angioplasty. He had chelation therapy instead and reported a significant increase in his energy level...and after one year his stress test was normal.

Dr. Steven Alsazar adds some insight to this. "We now know that there are a number of different causes for vascular disease. Included in those are immune dysfunction, intestinal dysbiosis and yeast, allergies and sensitivities, [as well as] toxicities secondary to chemicals and heavy metals... so the whole field of clinical ecology needs to be evaluated." Food for thought.

Dr. Edward McDonaugh also treated patients with Agent Orange from Vietnam with good results. He feels "we could probably cut the amount of money spent on medical care by 50-70% via the use of chelation Therapy (versus surgeries, specialists, medications and doctor bills)." Dr. Dan Roehm concurs with his findings. After 55 treatments on an MD's brother, it was shown via isotope study that cerebral blood flow was increased. Dr. Martin Dayton found that it is helpful for patients diagnosed with organic brainsyndrome.38Dr. John Sessions adds, "Chelation removes toxic heavy metals and this slows down lipid peroxidation which slows down the degradation of the brain cells. It reverses senility by improving circulation and decreasing the rate at which one loses brain cells to free radical activity." Dr. David Steenblock has had a 90% success rate for patients who suffered stroke in his program. Chelation helps to remove the calcium deposits in the brain tissue. He combines hyperbaric oxygen (high pressure oxygen) with pulsed electromagnetic wave therapy, chelation, functional electrical stimulation, EEG biofeedback and the use of Coenzyme Q10,CDP choline and Carnitine (these help the brain to recover).

Dr. John Sessions has seen improvement in chronic diseases such as scleroderma, which is fatal once it affects the esophagus.He feels that it gives new hope to people with chronic degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimers and even impotence.

Most patients who talk about the effects of chelation therapy overwhelmingly report an increase in energy and exercise tolerance. Dr. Yurkovsky feels, "Anyone over age 30 should get chelation preventively as the most rejuvenating therapy; a circulatory restoring therapy."

But there is a great amount of economic interest to preserve the status quo, in spite of the fact that we know chelation is more effective than other harmful, more costly modalities. So what we see are these "Quackbusters" who are tied to the chemical and pharmaceutical industry's philosophies who have no basis for their numbers, while they promote the industries they represent, such as the meat, sugar and dairy industries while attacking the things that really heal people.

Then, of course, there is the cry for the "double blind study" in order to validate the use of therapies like chelation. Ironically much of the stuff in traditional medicine has NOT been subject to double blind studies, such as surgeries and the administration of chemotherapy (we certainly cannot say that it saves lives!). Look at psychiatry. There is no proof that double blind studies in psychiatry improves conditions much less heals the patient. As well, none of the medical and surgical treatments are proven safe and effective. Yet we have proven that chelation is both safe and effective for several conditions. Yet it is often an option that people are denied by their doctors and insurance companies. Should physicians not be held accountable for this? The studies that are done on chelation are hard to get published in the peer review journals. You could fill a loose-leaf binder full of the side effects of cardiovascular surgery, whereas the side effects of chelation are nil. And practicing physicians never hear about it. Many things that DO work in medicine have not even been verified; 90% of medicine doesn't have the verification that chelation therapy has. In fact, the verification process itself is so politicized and so corrupt that finding objective science to determine efficacy and safety itself is a problem because of how easy it is to manipulate science.

What traditional medicine often fails to see is that disease is a process. The manifesting of the symptom is the end stage of the disease, whereas traditional medicine sees it as the beginning; they we see it as something we need to "fight" instead of to recognize the need to restore the mind/body to equilibrium. The advertising by pharmaceuticals is that everything can "go away" with medication. The FDA is effectively supporting and communicating to patients, "don't learn about the cause of your illness, don't learn about your body and its chemistry from your doctors, just get a prescription for a drug to knock the symptom out... and only go to the doctor when you're sick." There is not enough directed toward preventive medicine, and the public must get this information. So we end up suppressing the symptom rather than getting to the cause of the problem. But take a look at Medical school curriculums, and its no wonder. As Dan Roehm put it, "The focus is on violating the body with medications when things are missing... [we are taught that] the body breaks down and must be fixed with chemicals...when it really is a remarkable set of systems." Dr. Alsalzar adds that if we focus cellular metabolism and biochemistry when approaching disease, we would see the benefits of nutrition, exposure to toxic substances and lifestyle changes versus drug therapy. People are beginning to see the dismal progress American Medicine has made after over $25 billion has been spent. It's time to look at modalities that work and the qualifications of those who are administering them. Many holistic physicians practice quietly, lest they be at the mercy of their colleagues and the AMA, this due to a small number of holistic physicians who got greedy with alternative medicine in the past, practiced unethically and lost their licenses. There are those with good, legitimate backgrounds, with proper academic affiliations, who are published in peer review journals, who are board certified. And their numbers are growing. Yet traditional medicine won't recognize them. The economic and political agendas, then, become clear. Dr. Albert Scarchili, co-chairman of the education program of The American Academy of Advancement of Medicine states, "Everyone can't be psychosomatic when dramatic positive results are in the eighty and ninetieth percentiles of the patient population...80.75% of those who received chelation therapy for peripheral vascular disease were significantly improved. We can't get these numbers in traditional medicine's studies."

Chelation therapy has been used on hundreds of thousands of patients. It is safe and effective. Instead of waiting for your body to break down, why not take the opportunity to do something constructive? It can be used preventively and to treat specific diseases. Remember, the absence of symptoms does not mean that you're not sick. Symptoms are the end stage of the disease process.

Interview with Dr. Edward McDonaugh and Gary Null, program #69

Interview with Dr. Steven Alsazar and Gary Null, program #70

The Burton Goldberg group, Alternative Medicine. The Definitive Guide. 1994 Future Medicine Publishing, Inc

Interview with Dr. David Steenblock and Gary Null, program #53l

Interview with Dr. Michael Schacter and Gary Null, program #71

Interview with Dr. Yurkovsky and Gary Null, program #71

Interview with Dr. Chris Calapai and Gary Null, program #67

American Journal of Cardiology August, 1960

Interview with Dr. Serafina Corsello and Gary Null, program #68

Interview with Dr. John Sessions and Gary Null, program #65

Patient testimonial with Dr. Sessions and Gary Null, program #65

Interview with Dr. Kirk Morgan and Gary Null, program #66

Interview with Dr. Michael Janson and Gary Null, program #67

Patient testimonial with Dr. Michael Janson and Gary Null, program #67

Interview with Dr. Dan Roehm and Gary Null, program #70

Strauts, Z., M.D. "Correspondence Re: Berkeley Wellness Letterand Chelation Therapy." Townsend Letter for Doctors 106 (May 1992); 382-383 Chappel, T.L., M.D. "Preliminary findings From the Meda Analysis Study of EDTA Chelation Therapy." From a paper presented at The American College ofAdvancement in Medicine meeting, May 5-9, 1993, Houston, TX

Patient testimonial with Dr. Corsello and Gary Null

Interview with Dr. John Trawbridge and Gary Null, program #69

lnterview with Dr. Martin Dayton and Gary Null, program #66

Interview with Dr. Albert Scarchili and Gary Null, program #68