What Is Heavy Metal Chelation?

Fish, especially large fish such as tuna, can be a source of mercury in the diet.
Heavy metal chelation might be used for those with lead poisoning, which can cause vomiting and other symptoms.
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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 25 June 2014
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Heavy metal chelation is the process of administering a chelating agent in order to remove heavy metals from the bloodstream. The most widely utilized chelation therapy involves the administration of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, commonly called EDTA, which acts as a binding agent to rid heavy metals from the body. Instances of heavy metal toxicity frequently result from mercury and lead exposures. As with any medical procedure or therapy application, there are side effects associated with heavy metal chelation.

The presence of heavy metals can adversely affect all systems of the human body. When metals remain the body, it compensates and makes substitutions. For instance, minerals that are normally acquired through diet are replaced by the presence of the heavy metal. Other adverse effects include the destruction of cells and the breakdown of cell communication throughout the body. Heavy metal toxicity has been linked with several health conditions, including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer's, and autism.

Mercury poisoning, also known as mercurialism or hydrargyria, is frequently caused by the consumption of mercury-contaminated fish. The presence of toxic levels of mercury can result in the development of a neurological syndrome called Minamata disease, as well as Hunter-Russell syndrome. In children, mercury poisoning can cause acrodynia, also known as pink disease, which is characterized by the pink discoloration of the hands and feet accompanied by pain.


Symptoms of mercury poisoning typically include a lack of coordination, pronounced mood swings, and sensory impairment, namely vision, hearing, and speech problems. The type and severity of symptoms is dependent on the route and duration of exposure. In more extreme cases, mercury poisoning can result in paralysis, insanity, or coma. The progression of severity in symptoms can occur within weeks of initial exposure.

In adults, lead poisoning most frequently results from occupational exposure. Children are usually exposed to lead from lead paint chips, the paint itself, or dust created during the removal of lead paint in the home. Symptoms of exposure in children and adults include personality changes, headaches, and digestive disruption characterized by vomiting and abdominal pain.

Heavy metal chelation therapy was first employed as a treatment for heavy metal poisoning in the 1940s. The treatment involves several intravenous administrations of EDTA to extract toxins from the bloodstream. Conducted in a medical setting, such as a doctor's office or hospital, each chelation therapy session can last from one to three hours.

EDTA, also called Edetic Acid and Edetate, is a colorless, water-soluble solid that essentially binds itself to the metal ions present in the bloodstream, forming a compound which is excreted in urine and stool. The effectiveness of EDTA treatment is measured by the amount of heavy metal disposed of via bodily waste. The duration of heavy metal chelation therapy is dependent on the amount of heavy metals present, where the metals are stored in the body, and the chelation agent used. Other, less commonly utilized chelation agents include tartrates, phosphates, and citrates. Side effects of heavy metal chelation therapy include localized skin irritation, diarrhea, and headaches.


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