Is chelation therapy risky?

Our guy nailed it!

This past August I told you about the case of a five-year-old boy with autism who was treated with chelation therapy at a Pittsburgh, PA, clinic. Shortly after his third session of chelation the boy died of apparent cardiac arrest.

Whenever fatalities are associated with a non-drug therapy that’s not officially sanctioned by the FDA, we always hear rumblings about the unregulated dangers of treatments that don’t conform to mainstream dogma.

Last summer’s tragedy was no exception. But was the therapy really at fault?

In the e-Alert I sent you about this incident (“Quicksilver” 8/30/05), HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., pointed out that the boy’s death might be due to the type of chelation used. Some types, he said, are more risky than others.

And that was right on the money. Last week, Mary Jean Brown, M.D. (chief of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch of the Centers for Disease control and Prevention) announced that “without a doubt” the boy’s death was caused by medical error: the wrong type of chelation was used.

After examining the autopsy report, Dr. Brown determined that low blood calcium stopped the boy’s heart.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dr. Brown noted that the doctor had probably intended to give the child Calcium Disodium EDTA. Instead, the doctor administered another type of chelation with a very similar name: Disodium EDTA. The result: Too much calcium was removed from the boy’s system, causing his heart to stop beating.

The boy’s blood calcium level was less than 5 mg. Dr. Brown described that as an “emergency event.”

Chelation was first developed in the 1940s by the U.S. Navy to treat lead poisoning. In addition to lead, chelation purges other heavy metals when the chelating agent binds to metals and removes them from the body through urination. Chelation also binds with mineral deposits and is often used to treat arterial disease by removing plaques from artery walls.

“Drug Error, Not Chelation Therapy, Killed Boy, Expert Says” Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/18/06,