The History of EDTA

A half century of research in structural chemistry, much of it focusing on the ability of some amino acids to form constant, stable bonds with metal ions, preceded the rapid development in the 1930s and 1940s of a new
range of compounds, initially applied to industrial, and then
increasingly to medical, uses.

First in Germany and then
in the USA, different methods were developed for the production
of chelating substances for specific industrial use, such as
the prevention of calcium in hard water from causing staining
or other problems in textile printing. Citric acid was commonly
used for this purpose until first a compound known as NTA, and
then EDTA (ethylenediamine­tetra­acetic acid), were
developed and patented to do the job more efficiently.

During the Second World War
research was carried out on sodium salts of EDTA in order to
establish whether these would be useful as an antidote to poison
gas. Earlier chelating compounds which had been used in this
role, such as BAL (British anti­Lewisite), had proved effective
when either externally applied or used systemically in neutralizing
the arsenic in poison gas, but had themselves been found to be
severely toxic in other ways.

A compound of sodium citrate
was used in 1941 to chelate lead from the bodies of people poisoned
by this heavy metal and later research established that EDTA
contained a highly effective antidote to heavy metal toxicity
(lead poisoning, for example), since it chelated just as well
with lead as it did with calcium when it was infused into the
bloodstream, and without any side effects.

It was at Georgetown University
that Dr. Martin Rubin (who had studied under Frederick Bersworth,
the major American pioneer researcher into EDTA)
conducted the first research into the biological effects of EDTA
on humans. These studies showed its effects on lowering calcium
levels, although this had not been the objective of the work,
which had focused on discovering its degree, or lack, of toxicity.

According to Dr Rubin, who
was the chief researcher into EDTA’s applications in treatment
of humans at that time, a Dr Geschikter was the first to use
an EDTA compound for treatment of a human. This work was also
done at Georgetown University, using the chelating ability of
EDTA to assist in the carrying into a patient of the heavy metal
nickel ­ with which it had been chemically bound ­
in a vain attempt to treat an advanced tumour. There were sadly
no benefits to the patient, but perhaps more importantly from
the viewpoint of the benefits later seen with EDTA usage, there
were no harmful effects either: all of the nickel­EDTA
complex which was put into the patient was found to be excreted
via the urine, unchanged.

It was in the early 1950s
that EDTA was first used in the treatment of lead poisoning,
with pleasantly surprising and often dramatically unexpected
results. Workers in battery factories frequently developed lead
poisoning, as did sailors in the US Navy who painted ships with
lead­based paint. Intravenous infusions of EDTA successfully
dealt with this problem, and indeed to this day the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA suggests EDTA chelation
as the ideal method of treating not only lead poisoning but also
as the emergency treatment for hypercalcaemia. It was found that
there was often a marked improvement in the circulatory status
of patients with chronic lead poisoning, who also had atherosclerotic
(atheromatous deposits in the arteries) conditions and who were
being treated by EDTA infusion.

It is worth considering that
it is not just these naval personnel who are at risk from lead
toxicity. The degree of general human body contamination with
lead is now at five hundred times the level of people living
just two hundred years ago. Lead has many toxic effects on the
body, one of the more serious being its ability to prevent the
body’s natural control of free radical activity which itself
can result in circulatory incompetence as well as many other

Research studies by doctors
such as Belknap, Butler, Spencer, Foreman, Clarke, Dudley, Bechtel,
Jick, Surawicz, Boyle, Perry, Kitchell and many more (see References),
published in the early and middle 1950s, all relate to aspects of the treatment of arterial disease using EDTA.

Since those pioneering days,
techniques have evolved and have been improved for the successful
application of EDTA chelation treatment of the disastrous effects
not only of atherosclerosis, but also of circulatory obstructions
to the brain in people with some forms of senility. Similar benefits
have often been observed amongst those who have experienced cerebral
accidents (stroke) or who are suffering from early gangrenous
conditions. (The way in which EDTA is thought to work is discussed
in chapter 5.) Relief and marked symptomatic improvement has
been gained in countless instances of high blood pressure (essential
hypertension) and problems involving peripheral circulation (Reynaud’s
disease) as well as occlusion of blood flow to the extremities
(intermittent claudication).

A description of one of the
earliest uses of EDTA in treating chronic cardiovascular disease
was given in 1976 by Dr. Norman Clarke, Sr., to the California
Medical Association, in testimony before its Advisory Panel on
Internal Medicine. He described his introduction to the process
by research doctors (Drs. Albert Boyle and Gordon Myers) at Wayne University, Detroit in 1953.

    They had had preliminary experience
    in treating two patients at University Hospital, Detroit, who
    had calcified mitral valves. The patients were almost completely
    incapacitated . . . the doctors were very pleased with the results
    [of chelation treatment] because they obtained very satisfactory
    return of cardiac function.

Dr Clarke spent many years
investigating EDTA’s usefulness in treating cardiovascular disease,
and in his evidence stated: ‘In the last 28 years of my experience
with EDTA chelation I have given at least 100,000 to 120,000
infusions of EDTA and seen nobody harmed’.

He dramatically described
the successful treatment of gangrene using EDTA, perfused directly
into the site via a drip into the femoral artery, as well as
this method’s usefulness in cerebrovascular senility: ‘After
all these years, and with all that experience, I am just as certain
as can be that EDTA chelation therapy is the best treatment that
has ever been brought out for occlusive vascular disease’

Other benefits
from EDTA infusion

Just as the use of EDTA in
treating lead poisoning revealed its ability to remove unwanted
calcium, so additional benefits were discovered when circulatory
conditions were being treated. Many patients with osteoarthritic
and similar problems reported relief of symptoms and an improved
range of movement in previously restricted joints. It seems that
obstructive calcium deposits in these areas were also being removed
during chelation treatment.

Other unexpected benefits
which chelation therapy has produced in many patients include
a reduction in the amount of insulin which diabetics require
to maintain a stable condition, as well as marked improvements
in many patients with kidney dysfunction (see also Chapter 6
on the potential danger to kidney function under certain conditions
of wrong use of EDTA). More surprisingly, perhaps, a great deal
of functional improvement in patients with Alzheimer’s disease
and Parkinson’s disease is sometimes seen. Just how chelation
could help in these states is not clear, apart from the unpredictable
benefits of circulatory enhancement, and it may be that patients
who appear to find relief from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and
Parkinson’s diseases might have had a faulty diagnosis, despite
displaying all the classical signs associated with them.

New York studies on hyperactive
children, using EDTA, have shown remarkable benefits, thought
to relate to the removal of lead which may have accumulated in
greater quantities in some of these children, due to their relative
deficiency of major protective nutrients such as zinc and vitamin
C, not uncommonly observed in such children.

As described in Chapter 5,
there is also well­documented Swiss evidence of chelation
therapy offering marked protection against the development of
cancer as well as a suggestion that it could be useful in treating
some forms of this disease.


The safety aspect of the use
of EDTA in therapy has been phenomenal, with hardly any serious
reactions being recorded amongst the host of seriously ill people
to whom chelation therapy has been correctly applied. The commonest
short­term side­effects, as well as precautions associated
with EDTA usage, are discussed at length in Chapter 6.

By 1980 it was estimated by
Bruce Halstead, MD, (Halstead 1979) that
there had been over 2 million applications of EDTA therapy involving
some 100 million infusions, with not a single fatality, in the
USA alone. The most effective use of chelation therapy
has, over the 30 years of its successful application, been consistently
found to be related to those diseases in which heavy metal or
calcium deposits are major factors.

Have there been double blind
trials, the yardstick by which so much in medicine is judged?
Hardly any, because, as Halstead states: ‘It is impossible to
administer EDTA blindly (i.e., so that neither the doctor nor the patient knows whether
real EDTA or a substitute is being used), because it can be readily differentiated
from an innocuous placebo by even one unacquainted with the

This is a major obstacle to
its acceptance by mainstream medicine, but should not prevent
those interested in its claims from examining the objective evidence.
It should not require double­blind control studies to impress
the observer with the possibility that people are actually getting
better when severely ill people, with advanced circulatory problems,
sometimes involving gangrene, show steady improvement in their
functions, better muscular co­ordination, the disappearance
of angina pain, increased ability to walk and work, restoration
or improvement of brain function, better skin tone and more powerful
arterial pulsations, along with the restoration of normal temperature
in the extremities. This is particularly true in many patients
who are slated to undergo bypass surgery, and this brings us
close to one reason for orthodox medicine’s rejection (in the
main) of chelation’s claims.

It might be that some of the
simplistic theories as to how EDTA achieved its results
may have prevented some scientists and physicians from taking
it seriously or of investigating its potential. The current theories
as to how calcium is encouraged to leave atheromatous deposits
in blocked arteries have been well investigated by the proponents
of chelation therapy and deserve to be seriously considered in
view of the vast amount of illness attached to this area of human
suffering and the remarkable results demonstrated by chelation

Bypass surgery and drug treatment
of the conditions which chelation so often effectively deals with
are very big business indeed. In the USA
alone, $4 billion is
the current turnover per annum of the bypass industry. A
lesser, but nevertheless
enormous, sum is involved in medication for conditions which
the relatively cheap (and now out of patent) substance EDTA
can be shown to help. Such vested interests should
not be underestimated when it comes to the lengths to which they
will go to try to discredit methods which threaten their stranglehold
on the ‘market’ Chelation therapy continues to grow, however,
as public awareness and knowledge increases of this safe alternative
to surgery and drugs, many of which are of questionable safety
and value.

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Written by Leon Chaitow ND DO MRO

Explore Wellness in 2021