What is chelation?
Chelation is a way to remove toxins (or chemicals with negative effects) from the blood. The process can have several steps, and one of the key steps is using other chemicals to ‘flush out’ the system.
Chelation usually aims to remove heavy metals like lead or mercury.
Other terms related to this therapy include DMSA, lipoic acid, clay baths and natural chelating agents.
Who is chelation for?
Chelation therapy is used for people who have experienced heavy metal poisoning.
Although anyone could have chelation therapy, it isn’t recommended for children with liver and kidney problems.
Also, chelation is not recommended as a therapy for autism.
What is chelation used for?
Chelation is used to remove toxic chemicals from the blood in people who have experienced heavy metal poisoning.
Where does chelation come from?
Chelation therapy has been around for many years as a treatment for heavy metal poisoning. It has been used as an autism therapy since the 1980s.
What is the idea behind chelation?
Blood contains several different chemicals in small amounts, but certain chemicals – like mercury – can be poisonous if the levels are too high.
Some people think autism is caused by an excess of mercury in the blood, which the body can’t get rid of naturally. Supporters of this theory believe that removing excess toxins like mercury will remove the cause of autism.
Supporters of chelation also suggest that the excess mercury comes from immunisation. This is because, in the past, thimerosal (a chemical related to mercury) was used to make some vaccines. It’s important to note that thimerosal-based vaccines are no longer used in Australia. Even when they were, the amount of thimerosal was always below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended limits.
There’s no scientific evidence that mercury is involved in the development of autism.
What does chelation involve?
There are several stages in chelation therapy.
The first stage involves having an initial test done to identify the level and type of heavy metal toxin in the blood. This test also helps to identify an appropriate detoxification chemical.
The next stage is preparing the person’s body for the therapy. This includes:
- reducing any current exposure the person has to the heavy metal toxin
- looking at or improving the person’s nutritional status
- ensuring that other chemicals found in the body are at normal levels
- having blood, kidney and liver tests.
Some of these steps can be complex, time consuming and distressing. For example, a person might need to have dental fillings replaced with another filling material, make dietary changes or take vitamin and mineral supplements.
The final stage involves giving the person the appropriate chemical to ‘flush the toxin’ from the body. Depending on which chemicals are used, they can be taken orally, injected or administered as a rectal suppository or patch worn on the skin.
Chelation treatment can go on for many months – up to a year in some cases.
The cost of chelation varies depending on the type of chelation treatment used.
Does chelation work?
Research has found no evidence to suggest that chelation is an effective therapy for autism.
There’s also evidence that chelation can cause harm depending on how it’s carried out. The US Food and Drug Authority has issued a caution about use of over-the-counter chelation treatment. And in 2008, a large-scale research project on the use of chelation to treat autism was stopped because of the dangers associated with it.
Supporters of this therapy recommend that the person receiving the therapy is tested regularly for any negative outcomes.
Who practises chelation?
Some of the drugs used for this therapy can be bought over the counter in pharmacies or health food shops, but the therapy should always be administered by a medical doctor.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
Unless you’re actually administering the chelating drugs to your child, there’s no specific involvement for parents in chelation therapy.
Where can you find a chelation practitioner?
If you’re thinking about chelation, you should talk about its potential benefits and risks with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could talk about it with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood early intervention (ECEI) coordinator or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.