Heavy metals are exactly what they sound like: metals with a high molecular weight. They’re common as environmental pollutants; lead, for instance, used to be added to gasoline and paint; cadmium is widely found in air and water through mining and manufacturing, and is also a component of tobacco; mercury in the environment is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants.
Heavy metals are xenobiotics, that is, they can be found in the body but have no known biological function.
These metals are extremely toxic, although very low concentrations of them may be hormetic.1
Heavy metals and heart attacks
It’s long been suspected that these heavy metals play a role in heart disease. Their toxicity manifests as oxidative stress, which damages tissues including arteries. For example, those in the highest tertile (third) of blood levels had a 55% greater risk of cardiovascular death.2
A recent review of the literature on heavy metals and heart disease found3:
“There is strong evidence that xenobiotic metal contamination is linked to atherosclerotic disease and is a modifiable risk factor.”
Most of the suspicion of heavy metals has been done by alternative medicine types and goes back decades. Mainstream medicine has generally been enamored of theories having to do with saturated fat and cholesterol as causes of heart disease, and has thus overwhelmingly dismissed heavy metals as a cause.
EDTA chelation therapy for heavy metals
Alternative practitioners have long used EDTA chelation therapy to treat heavy metal toxicity, with great success. EDTA is a cheap, safe chemical that binds metals, and is in fact used as a food preservative, since it binds calcium and other metals, preventing oxidation and bacterial growth.
EDTA is given intravenously, it binds to heavy metals in the body, and the EDTA-metal complex is then excreted.
An article on EDTA therapy gives all the details on this therapy, and also remarks on why this therapy isn’t more widely used.
It is unlikely that any other issue in modern medicine has been more highly politicized than that of EDTA chelation therapy, and it is clear that most of the opposition to EDTA is due to the threat this therapy represents, not to patients’ health but to the bank balances of orthodox physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals. Treating cardiovascular diseases is big business in the United States (and the rest of the Western world), bringing in tens of billions of dollars each year.
As Garry Gordon, MD, DO, the “Father of Chelation Therapy” has pointed out, “Every time a surgeon does a heart bypass, he takes home a luxury sports car.” Each CABG procedure costs between $25,000 and $50,000; each angioplasty costs about $15,000; drugs for reducing cholesterol, lowering high blood pressure, and normalizing heart rhythm bring the pharmaceutical industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year. And these are just the most common examples. What happens when you add EDTA chelation therapy to this mix?
A course of I.V. EDTA chelation therapy costs between $2000 and $4000; oral EDTA is even less costly.
Follow the money. Coronary bypass operations are very expensive. The average cost of a bypass as of 2015 is $152,000, up vastly from the amount cited above.4
It’s no wonder mainstream medicine has been skeptical; its skepticism makes money.
A new study recently appeared that found positive results for EDTA chelation therapy: Heavy Metals, Cardiovascular Disease, and the Unexpected Benefits of Chelation Therapy.5
The study found a ~20% reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular events in those on the therapy. In diabetics, the reduction was ~40%. See below.
The study, known as TACT, was started to put an end once and for all that EDTA chelation therapy was effective. ” Because of the expectation that TACT would be a debunking study, it was designed as a clinical trial without a mechanistic component.” They did not expect it to work.
A “single infusion” of EDTA
increased lead excretion by 3,887%, and cadmium by 670%. These findings raise the possibility that edetate disodium mobilizes lead and cadmium from their chronic tissue storage compartments and facilitates their excretion. In our review, we focus on cadmium and lead because those are the metals with the strongest epidemiological and experimental evidence in support of a role in cardiovascular disease development.
Removal of cadmium and lead to that degree could be expected to have a strong effect on atherosclerosis.
No mention is made of calcium or iron, metals which EDTA also chelates.
The stability constant of a chelate, that is, a complex of chelator and metal, indicates its affinity for that metal, the higher the constant, the greater the affinity. A table of EDTA-metal stability constants indicates stability constants of
- cadmium, 16.46
- lead, 18.04
- iron, 14.33
- calcium, 10.96
EDTA could be expected to remove a considerable amount of free iron, with the possibility that calcium from calcified arteries could be removed as well.
So the results of EDTA therapy could also be due to lowering iron.
EDTA can also be taken orally, which is significantly cheaper, although the therapy takes longer. Oral therapy costs a trivial amount, whereas IV chelation therapy could be expected to cost perhaps $100 to $200 per weekly treatment; hence a total treatment protocol could run $4,000 to $8,000. (Though if I had heart disease, I’d spend the money.)
Supplements that chelate and remove heavy metals
Curcumin chelates heavy metals, and successfully prevented lead and cadmium induced lipid and brain damage in rats.6 Daily use of curcumin, at 500 to 1500 mg a day, could therefore be expected to remove toxic heavy metals from the body and prevent tissue damage. And in fact, curcumin has anti-atherosclerotic activity.7
So, we see that in addition to EDTA chelation therapy, a number of other supplements can chelate heavy metals.
Heavy metals are strongly implicated in atherosclerotic heart disease. How many people are at risk?
People in the highest tertile (third) of lead levels were at 55% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease. (See above.) That means that, assuming lead levels have remained constant, one-third of the population by definition has high lead levels, enough to increase risk of death.
Smokers, both current and former (*raises hand*) can be expected to have high cadmium levels, higher than non-smokers anyway.
Therefore almost anyone wanting to prevent heart disease should consider one of the supplements mentioned above. Anyone with actual heart disease may want to consider EDTA chelation therapy.
PS: Iron is a metal that can harm health; check out my book, Dumping Iron, for more.
- Heinz, Gary H., et al. “Hormesis associated with a low dose of methylmercury injected into mallard eggs.” Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology 62.1 (2012): 141-144. ↩
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16982939/ ↩
- Solenkova, Natalia V., et al. “Metal pollutants and cardiovascular disease: mechanisms and consequences of exposure.” American heart journal 168.6 (2014): 812-822. ↩
- https://circoutcomes.ahajournals.org/content/8/Suppl_2/A208.abstract ↩
- https://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleID=2522139 ↩
- Daniel, Sheril, et al. “Through metal binding, curcumin protects against lead-and cadmium-induced lipid peroxidation in rat brain homogenates and against lead-induced tissue damage in rat brain.” Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 98.2 (2004): 266-275. ↩
- Shin, Su‐Kyung, et al. “Long‐term curcumin administration protects against atherosclerosis via hepatic regulation of lipoprotein cholesterol metabolism.”Molecular nutrition & food research 55.12 (2011): 1829-1840. ↩
- El-Shahat, A. E., et al. “Altered testicular morphology and oxidative stress induced by cadmium in experimental rats and protective effect of simultaneous green tea extract.” Int J Morphol 27.3 (2009): 757-764. ↩
- Kelly, Gregory S. “Clinical applications of N-acetylcysteine.” Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic 3.2 (1998): 114-127. ↩