Chelation is a chemical process by which a metal or mineral (e.g., lead, mercury, copper, calcium) is bonded to another substance. It is a natural, indeed, a vital process that goes on continually in our bodies. Chelation therapy employing the weak acid, EDTA, has been shown for decades to safely improve blood flow and relieve symptoms associated with atherosclerotic vascular disease in more than 80% of patients so treated.

Although the mechanisms involved in chelation are extremely complex, chelation therapy can be understood simply as the removal of calcium and other minerals that promote blood clotting and promotes atherosclerosis. Since these metallic catalysts also cause excessive oxygen free-radical proliferation, EDTA chelation also helps reduce pathological lipid peroxidation of cell membranes, DNA, enzyme systems, and lipoproteins. This allows the body's natural healing mechanisms to halt and often reverse the disease process.

EDTA (ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid) is a common man-made amino acid. You cannot get it from foods. It is used by the carload as a food additive and has been used for decades to prevent banked or drawn blood from clotting. EDTA is relatively nontoxic and risk free, especially when compared with other conventional medical treatments for protection from heart disease (like coronary artery bypass surgery or coronary angioplasty). When administered by a properly trained physician, IV EDTA has an extremely low risk of side effects- less than 1/10,000 patients. Oral EDTA, which does not require a physician's intervention, is probably even safer.

Oral EDTA has been used since the 1940s for removing lead from the body. Observant doctors who treated people with high blood lead levels noted that their symptoms of occlusive vascular disease were also disappearing. Although oral EDTA was clearly effective, it was supplanted during the 1960s as the standard of treatment by intravenous chelation for reasons that have more to do with politics than medicine.

Despite its well-documented safety and efficacy, EDTA chelation therapy has been the subject of a vociferous campaign of smear and suppression by the governmental/medical/pharmaceutical complex. Nevertheless, it has survived and prospered thanks to a relatively few courageous physicians, many of whom are members of the American College of Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). To date these physicians have treated close to a million patients with occlusive vascular disease with a success rate that conventional medicine can only dream of.

"The more chelation we give people, the less osteoporosis they have and the less age-related calcium accumulation there is in their blood vessels."

The "Father" of the modern chelation movement, and one of the cofounders of ACAM, is Garry F. Gordon, MD, DO. A world-renowned expert on chelation therapy, nutrition, mineral metabolism, and alternative and preventive therapies, Dr. Gordon wrote the original protocol for the safe and effective use of EDTA. He has published many scientific papers and is co-author of the best-selling book, The Chelation Answer. In this exclusive interview, Dr. Gordon describes the state of the art in oral and IV chelation therapy, and he explains why nearly everyone can benefit from this remarkable but, sadly, underused therapy.

Life Enhancement: How does EDTA work as a chelator?

Dr. Gordon: EDTA is closely related to vinegar, ordinary acetic acid! It's actually a weak acid. If you put an eggshell in vinegar, it'll dissolve. In the same way, EDTA will take calcium off your arteries. But, amazingly enough, it washes part of the calcium down, out through the kidneys. At the same time, through a complex action of the parathyroid gland, EDTA actually stimulates bone growth. Thus, even though it's removing calcium from plaque in blood vessels, it has the ability to make bones stronger.

LE: EDTA also reduces blood clotting that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Is it any different from aspirin in this regard?

Dr. Gordon: There was recently a 31-page supplement published in the Lancet (November, 1996), in which it is pointed out that common anticlotting therapies like aspirin and coumadin are effective against only about one-third of excessive platelet aggregation and coagulation. None of them gets at the whole problem. EDTA, on the other hand, appears to have effects against all clotting mechanisms.

LE: Isn't such a powerful anticlotting therapy dangerous? Couldn't you actually cause a blood clot to break loose?

Dr. Gordon: No, we have never lost anybody from a blood clot breaking loose. Yet, we don't have anybody who takes EDTA on a regular basis bleed to death when they have an auto accident or cut themselves shaving, either. So I've got the best of all worlds. I don't have to bring you in for blood tests every week; and I don't have to keep your blood so thin that it's dangerous, like physicians who prescribe coumadin do. And, yet, even if you get angry or eat a heavy meal, have too much sugar, or if you're diabetic whatever other blood-thickening risk factors you've got, you virtually can't get a clot if you're protected with a total oral-chelation formula. The amazing thing is my patients just about don't die!

LE: Do you have to worry about removing other, more beneficial, metals as well?

Dr. Gordon: We know that EDTA is a nonspecific chelator, and we know that everyone who takes EDTA will have less lead in their blood and, presumably, in their body. But, zinc also comes out very fast in the urine, so when you take EDTA, you can induce zinc deficiency easily. I suggest taking it with an aggressive multiple vitamin mineral supplement, emphasizing zinc. A pregnant woman has to be especially careful, because if she becomes zinc deficient, her fetus may develop abnormally.

LE: Why do you combine EDTA with garlic?

Dr. Gordon: Garlic is already becoming the darling of the country. Even Jane Brodie of The New York Times, who has always attacked all the health claims made by the nutritional supplement industry, has published articles lauding what garlic can do. Garlic will chelate lead and mercury, absolutely, without question. We have all sorts of research on this. Even red dye #40 will be chelated out by garlic. An animal that will turn red on red dye #40 won't do that on garlic.

This really works; in fact, in aggressive quantities, you could lower anybody's familial hypercholesterolemia. We had one patient at Stanford University who could never get her cholesterol below 500. Once she started taking 6 tablespoons a day of the EDTA-based chelation formula, we were able to bring her down to 200. So we can do miracles with the stuff.

LE: Let's talk about how chelation actually helps reduce heart disease. What exactly is going on?

Dr. Gordon: When we use the word chelation today, most doctors are going to assume you are talking about intravenous chelation. Basically IV and oral do many of the same things. There are more than 30 distinct mechanisms that may contribute to the beneficial effects. These include increasing the cyclic AMP to cyclic GMP ratio, affecting the level of calcium in the platelet membranes, and the level of calcium in red blood cells, and many others. All blood cells die. Your red blood cells die after about 120 days. All older mammalian cells accumulate increased intracellular calcium that leads to decreased physiological and biochemical performance. Because EDTA ties up calcium so avidly, it was used by blood banks for 15 years to prevent blood from clotting. Once you tie up calcium, blood can't clot.

LE: Is there much documentation to support the use of EDTA in this way?

Dr. Gordon: There are 7,000 known articles in our possession about EDTA, and I am sure if I hired somebody and we really went to work, there would be another 3,000 that we haven't found. So there would be about 10,000 articles on EDTA. Today there is a group that has proposed that one of the biggest actions of EDTA could be its ability to tie up transition metals, such as copper and iron, which are known to catalyze free-radical activity by a factor of up to several thousandfold. When you use EDTA right now for the treatment of acute myocardial infarction, you are trying to prevent what we call reperfusion injury, the damage that occurs when blood flow returns to an area from which it has been blocked. That's very exciting stuff, and it is really deep when you get into advances in free-radical pathology.

I have stayed with a fairly simple concept, which is not embraced by my entire academy (the American College of Advancement in Medicine, ACAM, which now has over a thousand physician members). There is greater and greater interest today, since we have ultra high-speed CAT scans that can now find calcification in your coronary arteries so tiny that they won't show up in an x-ray. When I first got into the field 27 years ago and asserted that calcium was a part of the atherosclerotic process, it was believed by my opponents that calcium was a late and unimportant part of the process.

Calcium is now being accepted as an excellent marker, and not a late marker at all. There are a lot of reasons to pay attention to it, and with IV EDTA chelation therapy, you can show that the calcium deposited in a human's aorta (or any other part of a human that pathologically calcifies) will go back into solution with repeated treatments.

"I've known people who had such poor peripheral circulation that their feet were black bordering on gangrene. After oral EDTA, their black feet became pink again."

LE: Is it possible that chelation can remove too much calcium?

Dr. Gordon: This is not likely with IV treatment if you go to an ACAM-trained physician who follows our protocol, and it is impossible with oral EDTA. The body can't have the ionic blood calcium level get too low or your heart would stop beating. However, when you lower it with EDTA, which ties up all the available calcium, the body immediately turns up the production of parathormone from the parathyroid gland, which then allows you to steal any calcium back into the blood to keep your heart beating.

Amazingly enough, parathormone, activates two types of bone cells, osteoclasts that break down bone and release the calcium, and then bone-building cells called osteoblasts, that cause the bone to get stronger.

So the more chelation we give people, the less osteoporosis they have and the less age-related calcium accumulation there is in their blood vessels. In other words, the average 80-year-old man, if you take the aorta out of his dead body, shows 140 times more calcium than he had at age 10. The mesenteric artery shows about a 50-fold increase, and the coronary arteries show a 30-fold increase. This means you're gradually turning to stone in all your arteries. We can document that calcium accumulation in the artery is totally reversible by enough chelation.

LE: There seems to be considerable controversy about whether oral chelation agents are as effective as IV.

Dr. Gordon: That was the position that I originally took. There was a high-level meeting of the AMA Special Division of Occupational Medicine in 1966 or 1967. They came out with a statement saying it was virtually malpractice for doctors to prescribe oral EDTA. The reason they did it was basically because doctors paid by the lead industry had some guidelines put together by the Occupational and Health Boards of the US government stating that you could keep people on the job even if their blood lead level was as high as 60 or 80 µg/dL.

Now we know blood lead is unsafe at a level as low as 10 µg/dL. But, in those days they used to let people continue working while their blood lead was 80, 90, even 100. When they got above that they had to take them off the job, which was expensive and looked bad. So the doctors would cheat and give the guys calcium EDTA tablets. That way the lead industry was able to postpone ventilating and cleaning up their factories, and it saved the lead industry millions of dollars.

The AMA strongly objected to this practice . . . justifiably. But then they went too far, because they said that if any doctor uses these tablets, we're going to come down on him. So all EDTA treatments went into disrepute, and they were threatening my entire organization's (ACAM's predecessor, the American Academy of Medical Preventics [AAMP]) existence. They were trying to lock doctors up and throw away the key just for using EDTA, even though the package insert, by Abbott Laboratory, had claimed for more than 15 years that EDTA was "possibly effective in vascular occlusive disease."

The AMA had a real hang-up about oral EDTA. So in order to get them off our back, I agreed to publicly damn it, although, at the time I was not as familiar as I now am with the abundance of evidence that oral EDTA was so beneficial.

In fact, it was only after I wrote The Chelation Answer and damned the oral use of EDTA so heavily that I became aware that a soap manufacturer in Milwaukee had bought it by the barrel and was giving it away free of charge to people and telling them to go home and mix it with grapefruit juice. Over the years we have accumulated data from some of those people who had black feet from early gangrene. Some of them actually had been seen by a doctor and had medical records to prove it. It was clear from these records that this stuff did some miraculous things to some of those people, although we don't know the percentages. We only know a few of the success stories, and there may be a lot of them. I don't know its overall rate of success.

I use IV treatment to get people's arteries younger, and to increase blood flow in their arteries. We can prove this with any measurement that would be meaningful from a PO2 on their finger (the partial pressure of oxygen) to a plethysmograph, or a Doppler reading, or a thermograph, or how long you can stay on a treadmill before you get claudication, or how long you stay on a treadmill before your ECG turns bad, or what your ejection fraction is on your heart. Anything you can measure, our doctors have done.

Because we have now treated over a million patients, we know that intravenous EDTA does some miraculous things. What percentage of those things are also possible with oral EDTA I do not know. Thus, I would rather take the position that the two treatments do entirely different things. Because we know that oral EDTA is poorly absorbed (3-8% is the figure that is usually used) we take the position that that amount of oral material would never be enough to significantly change ionizable calcium levels the way it does when we use 3 gm intravenously, which is 100% absorbed.

To roughly calculate the dose and the relative benefit of oral chelation, let's do some math. For example, I've been getting success by giving people 800 mg of EDTA by mouth each day for many, many years. This works out to a total daily dose of about 40 mg a day. If we assume that we're getting about 5% absorption, at the end of a month, we will have absorbed about 1200 mg.

On that theoretical number basis, you could state that it would take 2 months to get the same effects from 4 hours sitting in a doctor's office getting a 3 gm IV. Many of the IV treatments we've now used successfully use about 1500 mg, which would mean that essentially oral EDTA gives them about the same dose at the end of, say, 5 weeks. So, you might say that every 5 weeks they could get the same benefits that they got in taking one treatment in the doctor's office.

LE: You're now an advocate of oral EDTA for chelation, but that wasn't always the case. Why did you change?

Dr. Gordon: Back in the 1960s, when the lead industry was abusing EDTA, the medical people put a gun to my head, and said, "If you say anything good about oral EDTA, we will, essentially, take you out and shoot you!" So, I was forced to damn oral EDTA and say the only way to go was intravenous.

Now, I am able to honestly say that oral EDTA does many beneficial things, but I'll never say that it does the same as IV chelation therapy. IV chelation makes you physiologically younger, because it moves calcium off of your arteries and makes your bones stronger. Oral chelation therapy merely prevents clots from forming so you don't have to die of a heart attack or stroke.

Occasionally, oral chelation does other things. I've known people who had such poor peripheral circulation that their feet were black bordering on gangrene. After oral chelation, their black feet became pink again. I've known other people bordering on dementia whose long-lost memories come back again. But, I don't talk about that too much, because I don't want to hurt and alienate people who've invested so much in IV chelation. And I don't want those people who are symptomatic of serious disease to put off life-saving IV treatments or to think that oral EDTA is just as good as IV. It's not!

Now EDTA alone isn't doing all of this. EDTA needs to be synergistically combined with certain nutrients. So when we give patients this combination, I can prove by platelet testing that these people will not develop excessive or dangerous clots, their platelets won't get sticky, and arteriosclerosis will slow down.

"The big cardiologists consider the diagnosis of congestive heart failure to be virtually a death sentence, because over 60% of their patients are dead within the first year. I haven't lost one patient with congestive failure in 10 years!"

LE: How do you know your treatments are working?

Dr. Gordon: Today in medicine we are allowed to use the term "outcome analysis." Let's compare a group of my patients with any level of stageable disease and simply see which of my patients are alive at the end of 5 years versus any other standard therapy. I couldn't believe it when I went to the meetings with the big cardiologists and found that they consider the diagnosis of congestive heart failure to be virtually a death sentence, because over 60% of their patients are dead within the first year. I haven't lost one patient with congestive failure in 10 years! It shocks me how big a difference there is, depending on which school of medicine you follow.

LE: What do those doctors say when you present that to them?

Dr. Gordon: They dismiss these findings by saying, "It's just anecdotal." Until we give one group a placebo and the other one the active substance, and neither one knows which is getting which, nothing that we say will be accepted by anybody.

Last year we got a $2.5 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, with full approval of the FDA, to do a study in a university medical school setting. It was to be under the chief researcher, Stephen F. Olmstead, MD, who is a cardiology professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Well, since he agreed to do this study, his life has been wrecked, because he has gone from being a legitimate, world class, widely recognized researcher to being the butt of dirty jokes from all the "orthodox" medical doctors in the state. He has been ostracized, solely because he was willing to study chelation. And despite the fact that he had a $2.5 million grant from the NHLBI, an official arm of National Institutes of Health, the dean of the medical school killed the study just hours before it was scheduled to begin, for reasons that only he knows.

We've never heard of a university turning down $2.5 million before. Off the top of it, the university is typically allowed to pocket 40% of that money for "administrative" expenses. For them to turn down 40% of $2.5 million, the dean must have been promised something pretty juicy by somebody who couldn't have the truth about EDTA come out.

Until we do such a study, anything we say is laughed at, is not publishable, continues to be called "anecdotal," and is unimportant to anybody except the million satisfied patients who have been successfully treated.

LE: How does EDTA compare with "approved" blood thinners, like aspirin?

Dr. Gordon: Everybody in the country is being told by their doctors to take aspirin to prevent blood clotting. They're all doing it. But it's not hard to get the figures (because they are well-published) that there are 3,000 deaths a year from aspirin poisoning. There's no human being that can swallow an aspirin who will not have a corrosive effect on the membrane of their stomach and cause a microhemorrhage right where the pill hits the stomach. That's a simple fact. Nobody can really refute it. By contrast, in a proper combination with other natural anticlotting substances, oral EDTA is a safe and effective alternative. It's the best blood thinner that anybody could take. Doctors also like to prescribe a dangerous poison called coumadin for thinning the blood. Coumadin is the same thing you can buy at the hardware store to get rid of mice and rats. Many people are also putting their belief in vitamin E as a blood thinner.

Now, all of these have some antiplatelet, or anticlotting, or anticoagulation effects. But, if we look at the bleeding and clotting cascade, it's a very complicated subject. That review in The Lancet points out that aspirin or coumadin or even vitamin E combined fail to hit more than one-third of the known factors involved in clotting. Obviously, if you could find something that would cover the other two-thirds, you would have a marked reduction in death rate.

We happen to have that stuff, but I have not got the budget to do the research (at least $250 million) to be able to say how much of this benefit that I have seen in my own patients of decreased death rate is achievable from oral EDTA alone.

LE: What other substances are there that safely keep the blood "thin"?

Dr. Gordon: Garlic has been listed in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet as a proven antiplatelet, anticlotting factor. And as you keep looking into it, you find that vitamin E, and carrageenin, as well as the essential fatty acids, including "maxEPA" and oil of primrose, all have these activities.

The essential fatty acids are proven now by millions of dollars of research to be what we call calcium ionophores. This is a big word, but it basically means that they both reduce the ability of your body to lose calcium from bone and help to slow its transfer to tissue, which is what I am telling you IV EDTA does. That's why I am telling you that IV EDTA is an antiaging treatment, because all aging mammalian tissues, with the exception of bone, become increasingly calcified.

LE: Does chelation do anything for kidney stones?

Dr. Gordon: Yes, amazingly enough, it obviously is going to put the stone back into solution, depending on the amount of calcium in the stone. There's a whole research society in Germany that's specialized in the use of EDTA. They get the tough cases where the stone inside the kidneys is almost the size of your thumb (they call it a staghorn calculus). They would put the EDTA in the backward way, through the penis, up through the bladder, up through the tube and then let you lay in bed and drip the EDTA, just like you could dissolve a stalactite or a stalagmite.

I use EDTA with people with small stones, and I tell them that they are very likely to drop that small stone and pass it. Remember that all the EDTA you put into your body leaves in your urine virtually unchanged. When it goes out unchanged it still hasn't lost its affinity, which is called its chelating ability or metal-binding power. It always has to attract to itself a "date," and that "date" is a metal, and that metal will be weakly attractive to magnesium, slightly stronger to calcium, slightly stronger to copper, quite a bit stronger to zinc, quite a bit stronger to lead, and extremely tightly tied to chromium.

LE: So, what you are saying is, it may cause part of a stone to break off and you could have a kidney stone attack from that?

Dr. Gordon: Definitely, and that is a standard part of the warning, that is included. Obviously, when I learned all these things, I had to put this into a protocol. Most people are happy to pass the stone if they understand that it is going to happen. So, I never withhold EDTA, because in everything you do in medicine, you have to look at the benefit-to-risk ratio. Although it may be uncomfortable to pass a stone, if you know that in the long run it's always sitting there with the potential that it could drop down into a tube and cause a kidney to completely obstruct, it's obviously in your best interest to get rid of it. If chelation gets rid of it without surgery, without fracturing it, without having to do any of the ultrasonic treatment, this is not such a bad deal.

Our experience on kidney stones has been entirely with the IV chelation. With the oral route, if you're only getting 800 mg, the stone will probably dissolve much more slowly, which may make passing it even easier.

Remember also that you should never go a day without taking extra vitamin B6 and magnesium, since most calcific stones are entirely stopped you don't form any more for the rest of your life if you take additional magnesium, about 400 mg elemental magnesium per day, plus at least a couple of hundred milligrams of vitamin B6 per day. That's pretty clear in the literature.

LE: Who should be taking EDTA? Should you wait until you have symptoms of heart disease or should you start when you are 30 years old?

Dr. Gordon: It is on front pages everywhere that lead poisoning is rampant in America. There are studies widely available showing, without question, that the lower the level of lead, the higher the IQ, performance, and coordination of the child. Yet, as recently as 2 years ago, the enamel on certain bathtubs was still lead-based. So when you put your baby in it, you were bathing your baby in lead. We know it is too expensive to tear up all the lead-containing pipes in Boston and many other cities, and everybody is supposed to run their water before they drink it.

EDTA is an effective treatment for lead poisoning, so when you ask, who should have it, you have to consider that chelating out lead for everybody has a tremendous benefit. If I lived in Boston and my kid was 3 years old, if he could swallow the pill, I'd have him taking the pills. And of course by doing that, he'd have this wonderful side effect. He'd have less vascular disease over a lifetime, a clear-cut benefit. When it got to the point that his doctor started saying, "Well, gee, everybody in your family has died of heart attacks, you should start on aspirin," he could say, "Yes, doc, but I've got a safer alternative."

LE: I'm surprised that the pharmaceutical companies are not trying to come up with an analog of EDTA, an EDTA-type drug, the way they do with other natural substances.

Dr. Gordon: It would make sense. We have interested some high level people. There are ways the patents could be done, but chelation has become such a dirty word today. If they were really interested, once the drug companies saw that this stuff really works, then obviously they could go into liposome methods of delivery, or work with EDTA, or come up with a new molecule.

In fact, we have a high-level chelation research society comprised of scientists from as far away as Moscow and Beijing. These people can devise new chelators every 5 minutes with their computers to do a specific chelation of, for example, plutonium in a pH range of 3 or a pH range of 8, in the presence of zinc or not. I mean, this is a highly refined science.

"The total oral formulation is the only way I know to keep people alive who don't want to die of a heart attack, stroke, cardiac spasm, arrhythmia, or blood clot."

LE: So, with a given patient, when would you do IV chelation and when would you do oral chelation?

Dr. Gordon: Basically, my position is this: the oral is an insurance policy to guarantee that you stay alive long enough to take the IV when and if you choose to do so. I tell everybody that the IV produces a "youthifying" effect to deal with several basic aspects of aging, including the calcification of your blood vessels. The total oral formulation is the only way I know to keep people alive who don't want to die of a heart attack, stroke, cardiac spasm, arrhythmia, or blood clot.

People who are symptomatic really have no choice. Once they have any symptoms of heart disease, or fail a treadmill test, or have silent ischemia picked up on a Holter monitor, or whatever method happens to bring them to our attention, anybody who is in trouble, I tell them they have to take IV and stay on the oral, because taking the oral too means the beneficial effect of the IV will not be lost rapidly.

In other words, if I take a 90-year-old guy - that's a man with a 90-year-old body - I give him 30 IV chelations, and he now tells me how smart I am and how wonderful he feels, it's still a 90-year-old body. If he doesn't stay on the oral chelation, he's going to need to be on an IV treatment every 2 weeks if he's diabetic or has severe cholesterol disturbance, and every 4 weeks if he doesn't have that. So often, I do only one IV treatment a month on people even if they have high-risk factors, if they stay on the oral EDTA formula, too. The point is, I can lower risk factors and get along on far fewer IV therapies when I have the oral also going in. I have taken on patients who were inoperable, who had already had every known form of bypass surgery, until there weren't any more veins in their legs to strip out to put in their heart. They were sent home to die, and I could get those people back to full functioning. I've had doctor friends who wouldn't take the IV at first, but who now are on oral EDTA, and are able to pass a treadmill stress test that they couldn't pass for 5 years. I've had lots of good things happen with oral EDTA-based supplement programs.

We can count the number of crow's feet next to a woman's eyes and show that those crow's feet disappear with intravenous chelation therapy. So, we know that we are reversing cross-linkages. EDTA-based oral chelation provides automatic protection against the clotting process, as well as lowering their level of lead, so that they will have a higher functioning immune system, better IQ, better coordination, and so on.

It is also my firm belief that anyone considering using aspirin for the prevention of heart attack should learn everything they can about oral EDTA. It is my belief that EDTA is as much as 300 times safer than aspirin, since we have never had anybody bleed to death, or die with oral EDTA.

At the same time, when oral EDTA is used with other natural anticlotting substances (e.g., garlic, primrose oil, maxEPA, and carrageenin), there will be synergy.