Bypassing Bypass: Chelation Therapy
An interview with Dr. Elmer Cranton (August 1995)
Dr. Elmer Cranton wrote the book on chelation therapy—literally. He is the author of EDTA Chelation Therapy, a medical textbook. I came to know him through his book for layman, Bypassing Bypass: the New Technique of Chelation Therapy.
Even those who have heard about chelation (key-LA-shun) therapy generally know it only as an effective, inexpensive alternative to coronary bypass surgery. But chelation also has many applications for improving circulation and slowing the aging process. Chelation may help various types of vascular disease, arthritis, angina, stroke, senility, and gangrene, not to mention lesser ailments, and may even help prevent cancer. Last I heard, coronary bypass surgery costs in the neighborhood of F$50,000. After 5 years only about 15% of bypass patients are still living or have not required another bypass operation. With odds like that, chelation therapy is an alternative everyone needs to know.
Nevertheless, chelation therapy has been the step-child of traditional medicine—and the wicked step-mother has fought hard to keep this Cinderella hidden in the kitchen. The battle for chelation has been fought on one side by state and federal health bureaucracies, the AMA, and physicians who claim it is quackery, and on the other side by physicians who had seen its benefits in clinical practice. (The late medical pioneer Dr. Ray Evers fought 20 years for the right of his patients to receive chelation therapy. In the January 1990 Moneychanger we interviewed Dr. Evers and Dr. Don Thompson, both practitioners of chelation therapy.) In the heat of the fight, chelation advocates sometimes made extravagant claims or advanced simplistic or false theories about how chelation worked. Many have made plausible charges that the medical establishment refuses to accept chelation because it offers an inexpensive and effective alternative to drugs and surgery.
Dr. Cranton has all the traditional medical credentials. Since graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1964, he has worked for the US Public Health Service, and has served as chief-of-staff of a US Public Health Service Hospital. He is a diplomate of both the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Chelation Therapy, and past President of the American Holistic Medical Association and his County Medical Society.
In Bypassing Bypass Dr. Cranton takes “a quantum step forward in the task of reconciling chelation therapy to traditional medical thinking and understanding.” He not only advances an hypothesis to explain why chelation works (free radical damage to cell membranes), his book opens up otherwise recondite biochemical concepts to the lay reader. Dr. Cranton’s explanation of the free radical theory of aging and degenerative disease will help you understand a vast body of literature about other antioxidant treatments in nutrition and dietary supplements. Bypassing Bypass explains chelation, how it works, what every heart patient should know, and the benefits of chelation. His “Eight things You Can Do Now to Live Healthier, Longer” and Anti-Free Radical Diet should be read by everyone interested in his own health. I don’t know any better introduction to chelation therapy than Bypassing Bypass. When I read it I couldn’t put it down.
Dr. Cranton recently sold his practice in Trout Dale and opened a new practice near Olympia in Washington State. His address there is 503 First St. South/P.O. Box 5100, Yeln, WA 98597-5100; (800) 337-9918 or (360) 458-1061; fax (360) 458-1661. Dr. Cranton has a web site at drcranton.com.
The American College of Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) is the professional association of physicians who use EDTA chelation therapy. For a current directory of physicians who administer chelation therapy according to the approved ACAM protocol for safety and effectiveness, contact ACAM, P.O. Box 3427, Laguna Hills, CA 92654; (800) 532-3688, (714) 583-7666, Fax (714) 455-9679.
Some time ago, a friend and I began taking chelation treatments as a preventive. The treatment lasts about 3-1/2 hours. Sitting on a recliner in a very small room you hear some amazing “stand up and throw away your crutches” stories. Some of the folks taking chelation with us, especially those suffering from severe heart disease, have literally had their lives given back to them through chelation. Almost half of the people we meet there are taking chelation prophylactically. I well know the derision and contempt you’ll get from many medical practitioners when you mention chelation, but come with me one morning and you’ll get a more objective slant on things.
And in case you were wondering along with me, I asked Dr. Cranton if he had undergone chelation himself. He told me he had received about 70 chelation treatments over the years. Dr. Cranton very graciously made time for this interview on August 30, 1995.
Moneychanger: What is chelation therapy?
Cranton: In chemistry, chelation is the binding of a metal molecule or ion in a chemical “wrapper.” The word comes from the Greek noun chele, the claw of a lobster. Chelating agents (like EDTA) grab metallic elements in their claws, so to speak.
Chelation therapy is the intravenous infusion of ethylene-diamine-tetra-acetate or EDTA. The amino acid EDTA is the wrapper. Its two negative charges combine with the positive charges on a metal in solution. EDTA binds the metal and carries it out of the body through the kidneys, without doing anything else. It is totally inert in the body, except for chelating unwanted metallic molecules.
Moneychanger: The heavy metals?
Cranton: The so-called “transition” or “heavy metals,” some of which, like lead, are toxic. Originally EDTA was used to remove lead in lead toxicity, and still is. No matter what disease we give chelation for, it still removes unwanted lead from the body. The average American today has a thousand times more lead in his body than his ancestors, and it’s a poison. Although the level might not be high enough to diagnose lead toxicity by any established criterion, it’s still not desirable.
Chelation also removes cadmium, mercury (if it isn’t bound as methyl mercury), and, more importantly for vascular disease, iron. Circulation problems arise when plaques block arteries. We call this condition atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis—the words are used interchangeably. Abnormally located iron contributes to that disease.
Iron, of course, is an nutritional element essential to life and health, but as we grow older iron molecules are deposited in the body where iron is not supposed to be and causes oxygen to damage cell walls. We call this “free radical damage”, and it stimulates the growth of tumors. (Plaque in the artery is one type of tumor.). It also stimulates the aging process and cancer formation. It destroys cells, causes skin to wrinkle, and underlies many of the debilitating degenerative diseases of aging, including arthritis.
Moneychanger: Chelation also removes calcium?
Cranton: It does, but not very much calcium relative to total calcium in the body. I personally do not think the calcium removal is the primary benefit, although it probably contributes to the benefit. EDTA chelation doesn’t just remove calcium deposits from where they are not supposed to be. Rather, it improves calcium metabolism.
Normally calcium is outside the cells. When free radicals damage cell walls, calcium leaks into the cells, deposits like concrete, and hardens up the body. If EDTA removes other metals (such as iron) which are damaging the cell wall, then the cell wall becomes less permeable and calcium doesn’t leak in. When the free radicals are removed, the cell’s internal “pump” moving calcium from inside to outside (where it’s supposed to be) becomes much more efficient and the “leak” is plugged. This is how I believe EDTA or chelation therapy benefits calcium metabolism. It’s an indirect mechanism.
Moneychanger: So EDTA does not so much remove calcium as it re-orders the body’s calcium metabolism?
Cranton: It restores the efficiency of the normal chemical processes by which the body’s cells maintain their integrity so that normal healing can proceed as it’s supposed to in a young person.
Moneychanger: In the past many chelation advocates held that chelation removes calcium from arterial plaque, causing the plaque to “collapse”—like pulling the rivets from a bridge would cause the bridge to fall. That sounds like chelation has a chemical “Roto-Rooter” effect, cleaning out the plaque out of arteries and increasing their bore. You reject that calcium theory in your book.
Cranton: Chelation may do some of that, but that doesn’t explain why people report that chelation’s full benefit takes three months to accrue. What we observe in clinical practice is much easier to explain on the basis of a removing an irritant so that the body can heal. That takes time. If you just pulled out the calcium and the plaque went away, they’d get better 12 hours later, but they don’t. They may receive some benefit right away, but primarily the benefit accrues slowly and gradually.
Moneychanger: If I understand your argument, EDTA attacks the damage caused by free radicals, and thereby restores the body’s metabolism so that free radical production is reduced. The body heals then itself over a period of time. Am I jumping to too many conclusions?
Cranton: Chelation doesn’t correct the damage, it removes the cause of the damage—excessive free radicals—so the body can get ahead of the process and heal the damage. Chelation removes metals that are potent catalysts of free radicals. An iron molecule near one free radical can magnify that one to a thousand or a million. Remove that free iron from where it’s not supposed to be in the body, carry it out through the kidneys, then the free radicals that are formed normally as the body produces energy won’t explode in a chain reaction and concentrate next to cell walls at a thousand times what they ought to be. Free radicals are essential to life, but in those concentrations they cause damage.
The other things that put out free radicals like a fire extinguisher are the anti-oxidant vitamins, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, beta-carotene and the whole spectrum of nutritional trace nutrients that we find in a multiple supplement—without iron, I might add. I don’t prescribe iron unless there is a documented deficiency.
These free radical scavengers or antioxidants squelch the free radical process. EDTA removes the catalyst that magnifies the process, and then the concentration of free radicals in the body returns to a healthy level which the normal body defenses can tolerate. After that, the body can catch up with the damage that’s been done and slowly heal the underlying problems caused by the excess free radicals. In this “free radical pathology” the body experiences a marked increase in the numbers and concentrations of free radicals as it grows older. This seems to be a very important contributing factor to the degeneration of aging that most people experience.
Moneychanger: What exactly is a free radical?
Cranton: It’s a form of oxygen that’s very, very corrosive. In chemical terms it’s a molecule that has an unpaired electron. When the electrons aren’t paired, they become very reactive and avariciously seek out another substance to donate that electron. If that substance happens to be a lipid membrane surrounding a cell, the process of trying to find that other electron can damage the cell wall.
In very simple terms, each cell in the body is a chemical factory that produces heat and energy for movement, digestion, hormone production, healing, or whatever goes on in that cell. All these chemical or biochemical reactions require energy. The cell has to make energy. That’s just exactly what you do in your home on a cold winter evening. You create energy (heat) in the furnace to heat your home. You burn or oxidize coal or natural gas to release heat. If the fire breaks out of the furnace, the house burns down.
The cell’s energy factory is also releasing energy and heat to fuel metabolic processes that are essential for life. If the energy factory burns a hole through the wall, the cell burns down and is destroyed. The energy release process is the same, but when the energy is released outside the cell adjacent to the membranes instead of inside the cell, the free radicals cause damage.
Moneychanger: How long has chelation therapy been used?
Cranton: Since the turn of the century in the chemical industry. In human beings it must be given intravenously because it’s not absorbed well at all by mouth. Since the late ‘40s EDTA has been given to humans to detoxify from unwanted metals. It was initially used for lead toxicity in the Navy. Lead-based paints used on ships made the sailors lead toxic, and they found they could remove the lead with EDTA. At some point somebody hypothesized that since plaque and arterial disease involved calcium and EDTA was known to bind calcium, giving EDTA would remove the calcium, and it might help.
It turned out that indeed it did help, so the theory was that removing the calcium conferred the benefit. In our current state of knowledge about the more sophisticated aspects of biochemistry and body metabolism, it is pretty widely accepted that calcium removal is only a small part of chelation’s benefit. The bigger part is removing the accumulation of unwanted metals in the body that greatly accelerate the oxidative damage to cells, mainly iron ions.
This form of iron carries an electrical charge and is soluble in water. On the other hand, iron that’s used properly for health in the body is already chelated and bound up in enzymes or in blood hemoglobin where it performs a healthy function. As we age unbound iron slowly accumulates, scattered like a fine dusting throughout the body, and it greatly speeds up the oxidative damage to cells which is technically known as “free radical pathology.”
Moneychanger: Exactly how is EDTA chelation therapy administered?
Cranton: It is put into a pint bottle of fluid and hung beside a recliner where the patient sits. A tiny needle is inserted in the vein, and the EDTA solution is dripped into the vein over a three to four hour period. As it circulates in the blood stream, EDTA will bind up every free, unbound metallic ion it encounters. When the EDTA circulates through the kidneys they excrete it into the urine and that’s how it detoxifies the body.
Moneychanger: How many treatments would a person typically take?
Cranton: That depends on his condition. People with significant arterial disease—coronary artery disease with angina, legs so blocked they can’t walk more than a few hundred yards without pain in their calves, or people having little strokes—really need thirty infusions for the optimum benefit. A younger person taking chelation for prevention or minor symptoms might take twenty treatments. Some people who come to us with very advanced disease take forty or fifty before they see the full benefit.
Moneychanger: What would thirty treatments cost?
Cranton: Between F$3,000 and F$4,000. It varies from place to place in the country.
Moneychanger: How many treatments can you take in a week?
Cranton: It depends on kidney function and the body’s ability to eliminate the EDTA. If a person has normal kidney function and they tolerate it well, and if the kidneys are tested every time to make sure there’s no overload, we can give up to five a week. More often it’s two to three.
Moneychanger: So the complete course of treatment would last 15 to 20 weeks?
Cranton: Patients who live within easy driving distance of the clinic will usually come in once or twice a week and take 15 to 30 weeks for a full course.
Moneychanger: You mentioned kidneys. Whenever physicians who are not familiar with chelation hear the word, the first thing they say is, “That stuff’s really dangerous to your kidneys! That’ll kill you!”
Cranton: It’s never caused any serious harm using our current protocol. If a person has pre-existing kidney disease and he can’t excrete the EDTA, it can aggravate it, that’s true, but we always test for that to begin with. Like anything else, chelation has to be given appropriately by a physician who knows how to use it. If that is done, the risk of the drive to the doctor’s office is greater than the risk of the treatment when they get there.
Moneychanger: [laughing] And that’s out of your clinical experience?
Cranton: Several patients have had automobile accidents driving to the office over twenty years of practice, two were even killed in car wrecks, but I’ve never had a serious complication from chelation.
Moneychanger: Is the medical literature filled with serious complications of chelation?
Cranton: No, out of (probably) close to a million patients that have received chelation, they have a hard time finding ten or fifteen patients that have ever been harmed by chelation.
Moneychanger: That’s less than the risk of taking a flu shot.
Cranton: I’ll add to that. When you investigate, in every single case the patients had pre-existing problems and the chelation was given too much, too fast to somebody who already had kidney disease, or to somebody who was almost dead anyway for whom chelation was a last ditch thing from which nobody really expected much benefit. Dr. Ray Evers used to do that. He would take patients who were very critically ill, terminal and not expected to live more than a few days or weeks, and do his best to try to help them. When these patients died anyway, that wasn’t his fault or the fault of chelation, but they blame it on chelation.
Moneychanger: We’ve talked about chelation as a free radical therapy, but that’s fairly abstract for most of my readers. For what diseases is chelation indicated?
Cranton: Chelation is useful in treating and preventing coronary artery disease (the cause of heart attacks), cerebro-vascular disease (the cause of strokes and some types of senility), and early in Alzheimer’s disease I believe it helps. Chelation also helps peripheral vascular disease, which afflicts smokers and people with diabetes more than others. The blood vessels in the legs become blocked and start to turn black with gangrene or become infected and won’t heal. They end up needing amputations.
Equally important, I believe, is that if chelation is done before cancer develops, it’s a preventive for cancer. One study compares a fairly large population of people who got chelation versus a group who did not. Followed over 18 years the chelated patients experienced a death rate from cancer only 10% as high as those who did not get chelation. But that doesn’t mean the chelation is a treatment for cancer, because none of these people had cancer when they were treated. The occurrence of cancer among them was reduced by 90% later on, when compared to the non-chelated group.
Moneychanger: A very close friend of mine has been suffering terribly with his neck. An traditional physician had diagnosed his condition as arthritis, and was treating him with drugs, but the problem was getting worse. He has now had 10 or 12 chelation treatments and for the first time in 2-1/2 years he is free of pain and almost free from unpredictable episodes of debilitation. It’s very dramatic when you see it in someone you know. What about chelation for arthritis generally?
Cranton: The pain and inflammation of arthritis is a free radical process. EDTA can reduce inflammation. The main problem we have in arthritis is with weight-bearing joints like hips and knees where the cartilage is worn away leaving bone on bone. That’s a mechanical problem akin to throwing sand in the gears of a piece of machinery for years and years. Chelation is not nearly as useful in relieving that because the lubricative surface is missing from the joint. You described a neck problem where it’s quite a different process. Chelation often relieves arthritis, sometimes dramatically, in non-weight-bearing joints like hands, although I don’t make claims that chelation cures arthritis. It’s body, it’s unpredictable, but almost always chelation makes the disease easier to control and less painful.
Moneychanger: What about Parkinson’s Disease?
Cranton: Parkinson’s is not a disease, it’s a syndrome. By that I mean it’s a set of symptoms with many different causes: viral infections that destroy brain cells, strokes that destroy a part of the brain, hereditary factors, a lack of blood flow to certain parts of the brain. If the brain is still viable and merely starved for blood, then EDTA can improve it. If that part of the brain has already been damaged and lost from stroke, then EDTA can’t bring it back. It can prevent another stroke, but it can’t correct the underlying problem. So in Parkinson’s chelation is sometimes helpful, but not as often as we’d like.
Moneychanger: Is the same true of advanced Alzheimer’s?
Cranton: Exactly. In advanced Alzheimer’s the brain cells are gone. They’re dead, just a tangle of fibrous material under a microscope at autopsy. I don’t know anything short of a true miracle that’s going to bring those nerve cells back. But, in the early stage of the disease when the cells are still alive but beginning to malfunction, I personally believe that free radicals are part of the problem. From a lot of clinical experience I know that EDTA can arrest or slow the progression of the disease, and maybe even bring it back some.
Moneychanger: My grandfather died at 83 in 1957. He had what we used to call “hardening of the arteries” the last two or three years. I had two other grandparents who ate a high fat diet, three big meals a day. They grew and canned or froze all their own food but still ate a diet heavy with meat. They both lived to 84-85 with minds perfectly clear to the end. I’m 48, and it just seems to me that people used to get old and then just died. They weren’t debilitated for the last 10 or 15 years of their lives. Am I imagining that?
Cranton: No, I think that’s true. The 20th century exposes us to many things that are toxic. There are more chemicals under the kitchen sink of the average home today than there were in a chemistry laboratory 50 years ago. The janitorial people walk through office buildings in the evening with carts laden with chemicals, and people come to work in the morning and breathe all these fumes. They spray insecticides around to kill the insects, and put chemicals in the air and in the water. Then on the other side, the trace nutrients like selenium and chromium are depleted in the soil. Since plants do not need these trace elements, farmers don’t add them back to the soil, even though humans need them for health and for cholesterol and fat metabolism. The same soil has been used over and over for centuries, and the trace elements are depleted so that each successive generation that eats off those soils is less and less well nourished, no matter how many calories they are getting. I think all of these things play a role.
Even if you buy fresh and wholesome foods in the supermarket, the soils on which the food is grown is not healthy, so the foods don’t contain what they contained 50 years ago. You can’t see those trace amounts of elements, but the human body depends upon them for health. That’s the reason you need to take dietary supplements.
Moneychanger: And modern distribution interposes a long delay from field to plate. I can pull a head of cabbage or lettuce from my garden and thirty minutes later eat it. It tastes nothing like the cabbage or lettuce I buy at the store.
Cranton: The nutritional value is far superior.
Moneychanger: Thank you very much, Dr. Cranton.
WARNING & DISCLAIMER: By publishing this material, neither The Moneychanger nor the author/interviewee recommends or endorses any specific treatment or therapy for any physical condition or disease. Neither The Moneychanger nor the author/interviewee guarantees or warrants any results from any treatment discussed, nor assumes any express or implied liability for any use to which the reader puts this information. By this interview, the interviewee does not prescribe any treatment whatsoever for anyone who is not his patient. All the information here is offered for information purposes only, subject to the reader’s own research, prudence, and judgment.
Originally published September 1995