People who are affected with heavy metals can have a number of health problems, including damages to brain and to other important body organs. Many health professionals use chelation therapy to deal with heavy metal exposures. It involves the prescription of several chemical substances to bind dangerous heavy metals that are present in high concentration in our body. These binding substances can be injected directly to the muscle and the vein as well as to be taken orally. Chelation agents can quickly bind heavy metals and the resulting compounds can be excreted easily through feces or urine. The treatment was first used in 1940’s by US military as a method to remove toxic materials from the military personnel bodies after being exposed to high concentration of heavy metals. For many years after that, the therapy was also used on people who are exposed to lead paints. Substances used in chelation therapy must be approved by the FDA. The therapy is medically prescribed when patients are diagnosed with dangerous level of heavy metal exposures, such as mercury, lead, arsenic and iron. It is also recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Practice. These are conditions that may require chelation therapy:
• Lead exposure, it commonly happens on young children and toddler, who live in houses with lead paint, as chips and dusts can be inhaled and enter orally from food contamination. In many US states, lead screening is a common part of doctor visits. Battery reclamation, smelters, welders and soldering are occupational exposure that can also pose a risk.
• Mercury exposure, it is often associated with workplaces that are associated with chemicals like tannery and battery factory. Seafood taken near coastal industries may also contain high amount of mercury.
• Arsenic exposure. It may happen when people are exposed unintentionally with veterinary parasitic medication, rodent poisons, herbicides and insecticides.
• Iron exposure, it is a rare situation that happens when children ingest too much iron pills (used for dietary supplement on people with anemia).
Other heavy metals such as magnesium, copper, nickel, zinc, cobalt, aluminum, manganese and cadmium can also cause heavy metal exposures, although they are quite rare.
These are typical chelating agents used in the treatment:
• BAL (Dimercaprol), it is a common agent used fro treating mercury toxicity and arsenic, usually given as intramuscular injection.
• Desfuroxamine mesylate: It is used to treat iron exposure and usually administered intravenously.
• DMSA, it is an analog of BAL and given orally to treat arsenic and lead poisoning.
• D-penicillamine, it is an oral agent used to treat mercury, arsenic and lead poisoning, not as effective as DMSA but cheaper.
• Calcium disodium versante, it often used in conjuction with BAL for treating lead toxicity, because it only chelates lead on extracellular level.
• Succimer, it is a chelating agent for heavy metal and taken orally, sometimes prescribed for treating lead toxicity in children.
Diagnosing heavy metal toxicity is a serious matter and must be performed by a competent physician who bases his judgment on laboratory results. When used in high amount, chelating agents can also be toxic and cause neutropenia (low white blood cell counts), bone marrow suppression, rashes and kidney and liver damages. These agents do no affect diseases such as autism, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis. Obviously, chelating agents can cause mineral deficiencies as they bind essential metals such as magnesium, copper, zinc and iron. For these reasons, doctors do not prescribe chelation treatment unless laboratory results show signs of heavy metal toxicity.
Some parents and others are concerned that vaccinations may contain a dangerous level of mercury; they also suspect that autism is triggered by mercury exposure. Consequently, some health professionals have started treating autistic patients with chelation agents. Some believe that after mercury is removed and toxic effects are eliminated, patients will begin to experience better symptoms. ACAM or the American College for Advancement in Medicine is a vocal proponent of healing diseases with this treatment. However, a major part of medical community still believes that using chelating agents to treat diseases should be avoided due to the lack of strong evidence. Additionally, ACAM is not considered as an authoritative source by traditional medical community.
There is also not enough evidence on the effectiveness of chelating agents for treating cardiovascular diseases. Likewise, we can’t find research results on the effectiveness of these substances in improving symptoms of autism. The treatment is still considered as “unproven” by the Autism Biomedical Information Network. They point out that, the medical community hasn’t performed reliable researches on alternative treatments for autism and many of the available information on the effectiveness is still anecdotal rather than being based on good valid scientific research methods. CAN or the Cure Autism Now, is an important organization in autism research and they have called for proposals to investigate the effectiveness of chelating agents on autism patients. This organization also considers chelation as being a therapy with undetermined safety and effectiveness due to the lack of valid studies to corroborate claims on the use of chelation agents on autism treatment. Many therapists are performing this treatment with mercenary behavior, while patients are not given scientific evidences; they are asked to pay between $100 and $150 per session. The therapy is long and costly; parents are informed that their children may need to undergo a costly and lengthy process. Those therapists can only promise results after between 25 and 100 treatments. Chelation therapy for autistic patients is not covered by health insurance and it is considered as an unapproved treatment. Some chelation therapists are even suspected of misrepresenting their patients’ treatment to insurers, which in some aspects can be considered as a fraud. As conclusion, you should avoid chelation therapy for treating your autistic child, until it is studied by reputable researchers and approved for use by most if not all major health organizations.