Chelation therapy represents the administration of chelating agents, substances capable of removing heavy metals from the body. In case of lead, arsenic or mercury poisoning, which are actually the most common forms of heavy metal intoxication, patients are administered dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA). But apart from being used in heavy metal poisoning, chelation agents are also used in alternative medicine. Still, there are no approved data related to benefits of chelation therapy used in alternative medicine.
How Does Chelation Therapy Work
The basic concept of chelation therapy is binding of the heavy metals and their elimination from the body by feces or urine. These agents create neutral chemical compounds with heavy metals and prevent their accumulation in the body which can be rather disastrous and damaging. Heavy metal poisoning requires prompt administration of specific chelation agent. If left untreated the patients may even die.
In case that heavy metal is ingested its absorption can be successfully prevented if chelation agents are taken orally. They bound the heavy metal and allow its elimination with feces.
Medical Use of Chelation Therapy
As it has been already mentioned chelation therapy is used in a variety of heavy metal poisoning such as acute mercury, iron, arsenic, lead, uranium, plutonium and other heavy metal poisoning. These agents can be administered intravenously and intramuscularly or are taken orally which actually depends on the chelation agent and the very type of intoxication.
There are several chelation agents and not all of them are used in the same type of heavy metal poisoning. For example, dimercaprol (BAL) is administered in acute arsenic and mercury poisoning as well as lead poisoning when it is administered together with EDTA. Furthermore, dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) is given to patients suffering from lead, arsenic and mercury poisoning. Dimercapto-propane sulfonate (DMPS) is given to patients suffering from severe acute arsenic and mercury poisoning. Penicillamine is basically administered in case of copper poisoning while sometimes it may be given to patients with gold, lead and arsenic poisoning. Penicillamine is also administered to patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. EDTA (ethylenediamine tetracetic acid) is very powerful chelation agent administered in lead poisoning and finally, deferoxamine and deferasirox are used for treatment of acute iron poisoning and in case of iron overload. Not all of the previously mentioned chelation agents are approved by FDA.
There are several side effects of chelation therapy and they include headache, deficiency of vitamin B6, nausea, diarrhea and cramps, faintness, fever, fatigue and joint pain. Some patients may even develop local skin irritation.