Blood vessel diseases are the leading killers in America and much of the industrialized world. Loss of circulation to affected parts of the body leads to some of the signs of this hardening of the arteries. This condition is even more common in diabetics and it is worse in smokers. Most of the time it is the result of lifestyle choices (diet, lack of exercise, high stress).
The signs of vascular disease appear on the legs as loss of hair, thinning and atrophy of the skin, non-healing sores, or even blackened toes from gangrene, and pain on exercise. In the heart, the signs are pain or pressure in the chest, shortness of breath or unusual fatigue. It can also affect the brain, causing loss of memory and confusion, momentary lapses of consciousness (sometimes called a TIA, or transient ischemic attack), or eventually strokes.
One of the most effective treatments for arteriosclerosis is being ignored and even maligned by mainstream practitioners. This treatment is known as chelation therapy, and it has been a successful treatment for over forty years. What is chelation therapy all about?
EDTA (Ethylene diamine tetra acetic acid) is a synthetic amino acid which has the ability to attach itself to metals and minerals, forming a particular kind of bond called a chelate, from the Greek word for claw. Heavy metals have a great affinity for EDTA and form strong bonds.
In the 1950’s, EDTA was found to be an effective treatment for lead toxicity. In many cases, patients who coincidentally had symptoms of heart disease, such as angina, improved while undergoing treatment. Since that time, a number of studies have confirmed the effectiveness of chelation therapy for blood vessel disease, including improved blood flow to the heart, the legs and the brain. They have been published in reputable journals by experienced physicians and medical researchers.
Two events slowed down the growing use of EDTA in traditional medical settings. The patent on EDTA expired in the 1960’s. Drug companies no longer had incentives to pursue or finance studies on the drug. The development of the heart-lung machine allowing open-heart surgery paved the way for more mechanical solutions to heart disease. Coronary artery bypass surgery has become a multi-billion dollar industry, including numerous unnecessary procedures. Estimates are that 50-75% of the surgery being done is unnecessary. Other studies show that non-surgical treatment is better than surgery.
The exact action of EDTA in improving blood vessel disease is not clear, and it probably works by several mechanisms. One effect of EDTA is to bind calcium in the blood stream, and alter the intracellular balance of calcium with magnesium. Calcium accumulates inside the cells with age, and this excess can disrupt enzyme systems. Pushing more magnesium into cells allows them to relax, and this opens up the circulation. There are also several other potential mechanisms of action.
One theory of aging and degenerative disease is the “free-radical theory.” Free radicals are highly active molecular fragments formed during the production of energy in the cells. They have high energy, like sparks in a fireplace, and this energy can be used by the body, when properly handled. However, if these free radicals get out of control they can cause damage to surrounding tissues, just as sparks that get out of the fireplace can cause the rug to catch fire. Excess free radicals contribute to the obvious signs of aging such as wrinkling and loss of elasticity of the skin, and the deposition of age pigment (commonly called liver spots). Internal damage, such as heart disease and cancer, is less visible but even more serious.
In addition to the formation of free radicals in the body, you are exposed to them in the environment. They are found in cigarette smoke in high amounts, and also in polluted air. (Large numbers of people who do not smoke have been found to have significant levels of cotinine, a nicotine derivative, in their blood, in most cases even if they do not live with a smoker. ) Free radicals are produced by radiation and rancid oils, by hydrogenated oil such as those found in margarine and shortening, and by ultraviolet light, and many therapeutic drugs increase metabolism and the action of liver enzymes that can increase free radicals.
Heavy metals cause direct toxicity to tissues, poisoning enzyme systems and especially affecting the nervous system. One of the most interesting properties of EDTA is the removal of lead and other metals. Iron is a transition metal, and it accumulates in the body with age and dietary excess, especially from meat. Excess accumulation of iron leads to the production of free radicals. Heavy metals are directly toxic. Removal of iron and heavy metals with chelation is thought to help prevent and reverse the tissue damage of a variety of diseases, including vascular disease.
Free radicals, with their high energy levels, are thought to contribute to the development of heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and certain immune system disorders. A study in Zurich, Switzerland showed a markedly lower incidence of cancer among patients who had received chelation therapy. This makes a strong case for chelation inhibiting free radicals.
For protection from free radicals, your body has a number of defenses. You produce enzymes that are free radical scavengers, such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase. These require trace mineral cofactors such as zinc, manganese, selenium, and copper. Many other nutrients are also anti-oxidant free-radical scavengers. These include vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, bioflavonoids and other plant pigments, coenzyme Q10, and sulfur-containing amino acids such as cysteine and methionine. These protect you from aging and degeneration. A comprehensive approach to treatment is more effective than any one treatment alone. This includes diet, exercise and stress management, as well as dietary supplements.
The nutritional components of a treatment program using EDTA chelation play several roles. One is the above-mentioned supportive role in the free-radical scavenging activity of chelation. Other nutrients act to help with vascular disease in different ways. For example, the B-vitamins folic acid, pyridoxine (B6), cobalamin (B12), and betaine help to lower blood levels of homocysteine, a metabolite implicated in higher rates of vascular disease. Coenzyme Q10 also helps directly with heart muscle function and lowering blood pressure. Hawthorne berry extracts act similarly. Supplements of the amino acid taurine help to increase the strength of the heart muscle.
Another role of dietary supplements is to replace those that are removed by the chelation itself. Because EDTA binds with minerals, it removes some of those that you want to keep. Chelation treatments remove large amounts of zinc and manganese, and these need to be replaced with supplements in order to assure the safety of chelation treatment. Chelation reduces vitamin B6 levels, and supplements help are essential.
Although most patients are treated with chelation for vascular disease, it has many other benefits, as well as a value as preventive medicine. Specific benefits are found in diabetic arterial disease, macular degeneration, decreased mental function from vascular disease, osteoporosis, intermittent claudication (leg pain on exercise), scleroderma, and other conditions.
There have been no serious side effects from EDTA-chelation treatment since the 1950’s, when it was first being administered. We have learned much about the treatment since then, and it is now safely administered by physicians trained by the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). There is a specific, safe protocol for EDTA-chelation administration.
Doctors critical of chelation therapy are usually unfamiliar with the literature and have no experience with the treatment in practice. Studies are in the design and production phases to further document the value of chelation for these controversial uses. A protocol sanctioned by the FDA was being conducted at army hospitals but for a variety of reasons it was stopped. Other studies have also been mysteriously blocked when they were well on their way to implementation.
The recent (1994) study from New Zealand on chelation and peripheral vascular disease does not discredit chelation therapy, although that was the conclusion of the authors. In that small study, which was mainly of smokers with severe disease, the “placebo” group actually received effective intravenous chelating agents-vitamin B1 and vitamin C–although weaker than EDTA. Sixty per cent of both groups improved. That is a large number for placebo effect, and argues that the control group received some effective agents. In five of the evaluations, the EDTA group did significantly better than the control group after only 20 treatments-too few for smokers with severe disease. None of the tests were better in the control group. Even the conservative Harvard Heart Letter said that “this study is unlikely to lay the chelation controversy to rest,” and rightly so, since the results showed benefits from chelation. (Statistically, there was one “outlier” in the control group. Removing his aberrant results from the evaluation, shows that the EDTA group did remarkably better than the controls.)
For further information, I recommend Bypassing Bypass by Elmer Cranton, MD, an in depth look at chelation with a chapter on free radical theory. My own booklet on the subject is shorter but still gives a good overview. It will be a Good Health Guide published by Keats Publishing when it comes out in June of 1998.
Heart disease is the number one killer in America. Bypass surgery is expensive and risky, and has not been shown to be of clear benefit for the majority of patients who have bypasses. It is important to consider the value of chelation therapy, which has so many direct and side benefits with so few negative side effects. If you have vascular disease, it would be worthwhile to look for a doctor who does chelation therapy as part of a comprehensive approach to treatment. You can find one through the American College for Advancement in Medicine (800-532-3688, or on the web at www.acam.org).
Michael Janson, M.D. is the Past President of both the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM), and the American Preventive Medical Association (now the American Association for Health Freedom), and he is a charter member of the American Holistic Medical Association. He is the author of The Vitamin Revolution in Health Care (1996, Arcadia Press), Chelation Therapy and Your Health, All About Saw Palmetto and Prostate Health, and Dr. Janson’s New Vitamin Revolution. He publishes a
monthly newsletter, Dr. Michael Janson’s Healthy Living, available for free by Email (email@example.com). Dr. Janson is an international professional speaker on the subject of health and nutrition, dietary supplements and alternatives in medicine.
He practices in Arlington, Massachusetts (781-641-1901). You can find more information at his website: www.drjanson.com.
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