by John H. Olwin, MD, Clinical Professor of Surgery, Emeritus, Rush Medical College and Abraham Lincoln School of Medicine, University of Illinois; Attending Surgeon, Emeritus, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center; member of NOHA’s Professional Advisory Board.
In the early 1950’s, I was consulting in vascular surgery at the Veterans’ Hospital at Hines, Illinois. There were 96 beds on the service, the majority of which were occupied by veterans of World War I, most of them in their late 50’s, their 60’s, and some in their 70’s. Many had developed severe atherosclerosis and because of continuing pain and not a few with gangrenous toes, were awaiting amputation of the involved limb. Vascular surgery was in its infancy and consisted mostly of lumbar sympathectomy (severance of nerves) and, as a last resort, amputation of a limb.
I had read of a group at the University of Pennsylvania who were using a new material called EDTA (ethyline-diaminetetra-acetic acid) to relieve the pain of angina pectoris, a paroxysmal chest pain resulting from obstruction of coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle. The angina pain up to that time has usually been relieved by a vaso-dilator drug – nitroglycerin – placed and held under the tongue by the victim. The EDTA (3 grams) was being given intravenously over a period of three to four hours, five times each week for 20 infusions. Three months after the completion of the 20 infusions, the attacks of pain no longer occurred, the sizes of the hearts were diminished, and the improved situation was maintained as long as the infusions of EDTA were continued about once every two weeks.
The men awaiting amputation at Hines Hospital were told of this substance and the results of its use, and naturally were anxious to try it. And when their pain was relieved and the ulcers on their toes began to heal – I became interested in the new treatment.
What is chelation therapy? It is the infusion of substances that remove metals from the body. The word is derived from the Greek word chela – the pincer claw of the crustacean. Early investigators saw a similarity between the way these chemicals bind metals and the way the crustacean firmly fixes its prey. The metals are so firmly bound that it is difficult for other chemicals to break that bond. Chelating agents have been used in industry for many years to separate metals from ores or from other metals.
The exact nature of the chemical action on the body other than the binding of the metals is not well understood. There are several theories. The one I hold to is that we are removing toxic metals that have replaced, in the various enzyme systems, the essential metal(s) necessary to the normal functioning of each particular enzyme system. There are at the present time 15 trace minerals that are known to be essential to normal enzyme activity. Among these are cobalt, chromium, iron, molybdenum, manganese, nickel, selenium, tin, and vanadium. Every cell contains more than 3,000 enzymes and of these more than 50 percent are so-called metallo-enzymes. In these enzymes the metals are structural components of the enzyme system. The remaining enzymes are probably influenced by metals acting as co-enzymes or as catalysts. Thus, almost no process goes on in the body without the aid of metals. If these essential metals are rendered inactive by toxic ones such as lead, cadnium, mercury, arsenic, or even an overwhelming amount of some of the other metals, even essential ones, the normal functions of these enzymes may be partially or completely compromised. If we can remove these metals that are acting as poisons, perhaps we can restore the enzyme systems to their normal or near-normal activity and thus reverse the disease processes. In removing the toxic metals, we also remove a number of the essential ones. These, however, can be replaced by the food we eat and by the addition to our dietary routine of so-called nutrient supplements, namely, vitamins and minerals.
It would be a happy circumstance if we could feed this chelating agent by mouth. However, when given orally, most of it passes through the intestinal tract without being absorbed and, in passing, binds a number of the essential metals that we need. Hence, it becomes necessary to give it either intramuscularly or intravenously. Since the intramuscular route is painful, we give it intravenously. This is an inconvenience and an expense but it is also painless and, being more easily controlled, is much safer than the intramuscular route. The inconvenience is that the patient must sit with a needle in his/her vein for an average of three hours for an infusion. EDTA must be taken slowly so as not to be painful and to allow the body to absorb it more completely. Unlike most drugs, it is not broken down in the body into its component parts, but is excreted just as it is given except that it has firmly bound a number of metals. It is excreted in the urine and can be recovered (almost 100 percent of it) in a relatively short period of time (hours). When properly given, it is entirely safe. Its only toxic effect is on the kidneys and since we are giving it slowly and monitor each patient’s kidney function with each infusion, the hazard is reduced to zero. In fact, we have had some patients with damaged kidneys who, when given the material cautiously, have been able to accept it and have experienced an improvement in their kidney function.
It has been observed by component investigators that, over a period of months to years, patients’ arteries, obstructed by calcium and lipid (fat) deposits, will become open and will for the most part remain so as long as the EDTA infusions are continued. The artery walls will again be narrowed and the obstruction will recur by similar calcium and lipid deposits if the infusions are discontinued. These findings have been confirmed in rabbits fed an atherogenic diet.
EDTA is also an anticoagulant, commonly used in vacuum containers to preserve blood in the fluid state. Our studies have demonstrated that, when infused, EDTA inhibits platelet aggregation, frequently responsible for clot formation.
As stated earlier, one of the principal effects of the infusion of EDTA is the removal of toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, aluminum, and mercury from the body, thus restoring normal enzyme function. There is no doubt that all persons and animals living in the cities of western civilization have elevated levels of such metals. Some years ago in the era when gasoline contained larger amounts of lead than today, we did a study of 100 patients in Chicago and suburbs and found as elevated level of lead (the "normal" then being 0 to 80 micrograms per 24-hour specimen of urine) in 87 percent of them. Sheep grazing near a freeway have been found to have a heavy body burden of lead. EDTA has been used by the medical profession for years as the best treatment available for lead poisoning, particularly in children.
Another study from our laboratory showed that cholesterol and all other blood lipids were significantly lowered following the beginning of chelation therapy and remained lowered as long as the therapy was continued. The lipid levels returned to their former state about three weeks after the infusions were discontinued.
Other benefits in the initiation of chelation therapy that we have observed included:
There is a not-inconsiderable amount of literature to support such observations.
Every laboratory assaying human fluids or tissues has a "normal range" or "normal" maximum level of lead in those tissues or fluids. More accurately, this should be the "usual" rather than the "normal" range since lead is present as a contaminant in most atmospheres and in many waters of the civilized world. If this fact was realized and accepted, the medical profession might well find chelation an essential addition to everyday living. With the information presently available, if every adult were offered two infusions of EDTA a month, the national health bill might be reduced by an estimated 50 percent within five years. And, if research efforts could find a chelating agent that could be specific for lead and could be taken orally, the cost could be reduced further.
The medical profession has approved the use of chelation for lead poisoning. The concentration of lead in human bones has increased more than 500 percent since the Industrial Revolution. It might be reasonably assumed that this alone would provide the basis for approval by the profession for the routine use of EDTA. The ravages of lead poisoning of any degree should warrant such approval. Human arterial narrowing, unless countered, progresses at the rate of on an average 1.4 percent per year from age 40 onward. By this time in life, most human couples will have raised their children to the age at which they can think for themselves. With a bit of education in the schools, lead poisoning could be countered by the use of EDTA at an early age and could materially slow the aging process and in many ways improve human existence.
Unfortunately, the EDTA infusions must be continued indefinitely in order to maintain their various benefits. Nobody knows how often the treatment must be given after the initial series of 20. In my experience, one infusion every two weeks has apparently been adequate. A few patients have seemed to do well on monthly infusions. All of those who have stopped the treatment completely have, within two to three years, developed arterial closures and a return to their previous conditions.
It is interesting to speculate on the possible influence of universal chelation therapy on the health of the nation and on the present national health bill. Currently, chelation therapy would cost in the neighborhood of $2,500 to $3,000 per person, per year, much less with universal utilization. On the other hand, a coronary artery by-pass operation currently costs $65,000 (in some hospitals up to $85,000) and the procedure does not alter the body chemistry to any practical extent. Many patients have required repeated by-pass operations. However, in regard to universal chelation therapy, the other possible benefits of the elimination of toxic metals from the body and the improvement in enzyme function are mind-boggling. Fortunately, infusions are easily and simply administered and can be set up in every hamlet in the country. It makes little sense to consider that any level of lead in the body is "normal." It has always been a contaminant and will apparently remain so. If this is true the "profession" should find chelation an essential addition to everyday living. With the information available at the present time, if every adult were offered two infusions of EDTA a month, the national health bill might be reduced by 50 percent or more within five years.
As with Edward Jenner’s claim in his discovery of smallpox vaccination in the late 1700’s and the germ theory of disease of Louis Pasteur a century later, original scorn and disbelief by the medical profession will eventually turn to acceptance of EDTA-chelation therapy as a valuable and useful tool in the treatment of a number of clinical abnormalities.
For those who may wish to look further into the scientific basis for, and the benefits of chelation therapy, it is recommended that he/she order a copy of a collection of papers by various scientists in the field – A Textbook on Chelation Therapy, edited by Elmer M. Cranton with a forward by Linus Pauling. It can be obtained from the American College of Advancement in Medicine, Edward W. Shaw, MBA, PhD, Executive Director, 23121 Verdugo Drive, Suite 204, Laguna Hills, CA 92653. Phone: 714-583-7666. The cost is approximately $25.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Winter 1996, pages 2-5.