Heavy Metals – Chelation Therapy
by Dr. Andrew Dickens, NMD
Heavy metals suppress the immune system at a time when the full force and power of the immune system is necessary to seek out and destroy aberrant cells.
Chelation therapy is a time-honored method to remove these metals. Chelation therapy was approved by the FDA in 1953 to treat lead poisoning.
What is a heavy metal? Any relatively dense metal or metalloid that is noted for its potential toxicity, especially in environmental contexts.
How do they get into our bodies? Municipal tap water carries many of them. Here are few other examples:
- Mercury – from dental fillings, flu vaccines, farmed and Atlantic fish, coal-fired plants’ emissions, fungicides and pesticides, mascara, tattoos
- Lead – from paint, old pipes that contaminate water supply, some herbal remedies from overseas, lipstick, leaded gasoline
- Cadmium – cigarettes, pigments and paints, electroplated parts, plastics and synthetic rubber
- Aluminum – from baking powder in so many processed foods, antiperspirants, vaccines, antacids, aluminum cookware, processed cheese
- Arsenic – from pesticides, treated wood like picnic tables and residential decks, also found in chicken feed and rice
- Nickel – cigarettes, diesel exhaust, batteries, heart stents
We live in a toxic world. Toxic residues are found in all of us, starting from the time we are in the womb. In 2005, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in U.S. hospitals.
In 2009, EWG looked again at umbilical cord blood, this time from minority mothers. Bisphenol A (BPA) was found in 9 out of 10 samples; it is the synthetic estrogen used in plastics that has been linked to breast cancer and hormonal problems. All 10 samples had lead, mercury, perfluorochemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated naphthalenes, polychlorinated biphenyls, and chlorinated dioxin.
The human body is engineered to remove small amounts daily, but not the large amounts we often pick up from modern sources.
Impacts On Our Health
Heavy metals can directly and indirectly damage DNA and that means an increased risk of cancer.
Heavy metals also poison enzyme systems we depend upon for life – enzymes are catalysts for virtually every biochemical reaction in our bodies. By one definition, death is the cessation of enzyme activity.
Heavy metals also trigger inflammation and can result in excessive damage due to oxidative stress induced by free radical formation.
The body cannot readily break them down many man-made chemicals. As heavy metals build up over time, they can begin to interfere with our metabolic processes.
Here are some of the findings in medical literature:
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified several metals based on their potential carcinogenicity to humans. Metals included in Group 1 (known carcinogens) are arsenic and arsenic compounds, cadmium, gallium, and nickel compounds. Group 2B (possible carcinogens) include cobalt and cobalt compounds.
- Chronic exposure to certain metals increases cancer risk; the exact mechanism of their carcinogenicity is not completely understood, although many are weak mutagens (cause DNA damage), can disrupt gene expression, and deregulate cell growth and development. They can also interfere with innate DNA repair systems. In addition, certain metals may affect gene expression and alter gene function.,
- Chronic exposure to arsenic has been associated with several types of cancer: skin, lung, liver, bladder, and kidney. Arsenic is famous even in fictional literature for its ability to act as a poison. It affects primarily the sulphydryl group of cells causing malfunctioning of cell respiration, cell enzymes, and cell division (mitosis).
- Mercury, cadmium, and lead, can inhibit cellular glutathione peroxidase, reducing the effectiveness of this free radical scavenging antioxidant defense system for detoxification.
- Heavy metals can act as molecular “mimics” of nutritionally essential trace elements, thus they may compete for entry into cells and incorporation into enzymes. For example, cadmium can compete Lead is chemically similar to calcium. Thallium is a potassium mimic in nerves and the cardiovascular system.,
Blood tests are not good for testing heavy metal levels because they see only what is in the bloodstream, not in other places where the body deposits heavy metals such as bones and tissues. The totality of our stored heavy metals is called the “body burden.”
We use a heavy metal urinary challenge test because it gives the best estimate of the body burden. Essentially, this is a before-and-after test. For the “before” test, we use a chelating agent to prompt the release of heavy metals into the urine – the more the body releases, the more the body has stored. Then we can run the same test later, after chelation therapy has begun to delete the body burden, to measure our progress.
Before giving this test, we often run a complete blood count and comprehensive metabolic panel to ensure the liver and kidneys are functioning properly.
Let’s look at a couple of before-and-after tests:
This first pairing comes from a 57-year-old woman with breast cancer. Initially, her body burden of thallium is off the charts, mercury is very high, and lead is not far behind.
The “after” test was done after five months of chelation therapy. We see a BIG reduction in thallium, mercury, and lead.
This woman chose to do two IV chelation sessions, and then followed with an oral chelation formula. She continues to use an oral chelator.
The second pairing comes from a 69-year-old woman with ovarian cancer. Her “before” test showed that her level of lead is high, indicating an acute exposure. Her platinum is off the charts because she had done chemotherapy and the drug cisplatin had been used. Also, her tungsten level is high.
When we asked her to investigate where her lead exposure was coming from, she found it in her lead-glazed 1930s dinnerware and antique bathtub.
The “after” test was taken the same day, six hours after a dose was given to provoke elimination of metals. This second test shows a dramatic release of lead and mercury. Her lead level is 65 times over normal. As an analogy, if you drove through a school speed limit zone at 10 mph, this patient was driving 650 mph through that zone!
We approached chelation slowly, starting with IVs and then an oral program she continues at home.
Effective chelating agents can be synthetic amino acids. The therapy can be given intravenously or orally. Different compounds have different affinities for specific metals, but all function by grabbing onto metals stored in deep tissue and bones and escorting the metals to the kidneys for excretion in the urine.
The chelating agent calcium-disodium EDTA forms an ionic bond with the lead in your blood, flushing it through your kidneys and into your urine. EDTA binds to metals and escorts them out of the body. EDTA is never broken down in the body; it goes in and comes out as EDTA with no pharmaceutical-like side effects. It can be used intravenously or orally.
The chelating agent DMPS, dimercapto propane sulfonate, is generally used to target mercury, since it binds more tightly to mercury than EDTA.
The chelating agent DMSA, dimercapto succinic acid, is an oral sulfur-containing agent which also has a high binding coefficient for mercury. The ability of DMSA to increase the amount of mercury and heavy metals excreted in urine is well documented. DMSA binds with heavy metals of the opposite charge and results in an increase in urinary excretion of heavy metals from the body.
When metals are removed, one very positive benefit is reduced inflammation. Many patients report fewer allergies, or less pain from inflamed muscles and joints.
In the famous Swiss study published in 1989, chelation therapy was found to have a profoundly positive preventative effect on cancer:
Mortality from cancer was reduced 90% during an 18-year follow up of 59 patients treated with calcium-EDTA. Only one of 59 treated patients died of cancer while 30 of 172 non-treated control subjects died of cancer. Observations relate only to long-term prevention of death from malignant disease, if chelation therapy is begun before clinical evidence of cancer occurs. Control and treated patients lived in the same neighborhood, adjacent to a heavily traveled highway in a small Swiss city. Both groups were exposed to the same amount of lead from automobile exhaust, industrial pollution and other carcinogens. Exposure to carcinogens was no greater for the studied population than exists in most other metropolitan areas throughout the world. Statistical analysis showed EDTA chelation therapy to be the only significant difference between controls and treated patients to explain the marked reduction in cancer mortality.
– Blumer W, Cranton E. Ninety Percent Reduction in Cancer Mortality after Chelation Therapy With EDTA. Journal of Advancement in Medicine. Spring/Summer 1989
Chelation therapy was first used in the 1940s to successfully treat cases of lead poisoning among those who worked in factories making batteries, and among U.S. sailors who painted ships with lead-based paints. It was noticed that not only did the symptoms of lead poisoning decrease, but also problems related to the circulatory system decreased. Today we believe that the anti-inflammatory effect of chelation gets the credit. Heavy metals are toxic to the body; they trigger an inflammatory response.
Chelation therapy’s anti-inflammatory effects have caused it to be formally studied for use in treating coronary heart diseases and diabetes. There’s evidence that chelation therapy also may help with cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
Chelation is a very useful therapy because it goes after a problem that can wreak widespread havoc on a fundamental level.
 Body Burden-The Pollution in Newborns, A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood, Environmental Working Group, July 14, 2005
 Sinicropi MS, Amantea D et al. Chemical and biological properties of toxic metals and use of chelating agents for the pharmacological treatment of metal poisoning. Arch Toxicol. 2010;84(7):501–20
 Galanis A, Karapetsas A, Sandaltzopoulos R. Metal-induced carcinogenesis, oxidative stress and hypoxia signalling. Mutat Res. 2009;674(1-2):31–5
 Koedrith P, Seo YR. Advances in carcinogenic metal toxicity and potential molecular markers. Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(12):9576–95
 Arita A, Costa M. Epigenetics in metal carcinogenesis: nickel, arsenic, chromium and cadmium. Metallomics : integrated biometal science. 2009;1(3):222-228.
 Martinez-Zamudio R, Ha HC. Environmental epigenetics in metal exposure. Epigenetics : official journal of the DNA Methylation Society. Jul 2011;6(7):820-827.
 Ibrahim D, Froberg B et al. Heavy Metal Poisoning: Clinical Presentations and Pathophysiology. Clinics in Laboratory Medicine. 2006a;26(1):67–97
 Reddy CC, Scholz RW, Massaro EJ. Cadmium, methylmercury, mercury, and lead inhibition of calf liver glutathione S-transferase exhibiting selenium-independent glutathione peroxidase activity. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.1981;61(3):460-468.
 Jang, D. H., and Hoffman, R. S. Heavy metal chelation in neurotoxic exposures. Neurol Clin. 2011;29(3):607–22
 Buchko GW, Hess NJ, Kennedy MA. Cadmium mutagenicity and human nucleotide excision repair protein XPA: CD, EXAFS and (1)H/(15)N-NMR spectroscopic studies on the zinc(II)- and cadmium(II)-associated minimal DNA-binding domain (M98-F219). Carcinogenesis. 2000 May;21(5):1051-7
 Thévenod F, Lee WK. Toxicology of cadmium and its damage to mammalian organs. Met Ions Life Sci. 2013;11:415–90