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The History of EDTA

© Leon Chaitow ND, DO, MRO

A half century of research in structural chemistry, much of it focusing on the ability of some amino acids to form constant, stable bonds with metal ions, preceded the rapid development in the 1930s and 1940s of a new range of compounds, initially applied to industrial, and then increasingly to medical, uses.

First in Germany and then in the USA, different methods were developed for the production of chelating substances for specific industrial use, such as the prevention of calcium in hard water from causing staining or other problems in textile printing. Citric acid was commonly used for this purpose until first a compound known as NTA, and then EDTA (ethylenediamine­tetra­acetic acid), were developed and patented to do the job more efficiently.

During the Second World War research was carried out on sodium salts of EDTA in order to establish whether these would be useful as an antidote to poison gas. Earlier chelating compounds which had been used in this role, such as BAL (British anti­Lewisite), had proved effective when either externally applied or used systemically in neutralizing the arsenic in poison gas, but had themselves been found to be severely toxic in other ways.

A compound of sodium citrate was used in 1941 to chelate lead from the bodies of people poisoned by this heavy metal and later research established that EDTA contained a highly effective antidote to heavy metal toxicity (lead poisoning, for example), since it chelated just as well with lead as it did with calcium when it was infused into the bloodstream, and without any side effects.

It was at Georgetown University that Dr. Martin Rubin (who had studied under Frederick Bersworth, the major American pioneer researcher into EDTA) conducted the first research into the biological effects of EDTA on humans. These studies showed its effects on lowering calcium levels, although this had not been the objective of the work, which had focused on discovering its degree, or lack, of toxicity.

According to Dr Rubin, who was the chief researcher into EDTA's applications in treatment of humans at that time, a Dr Geschikter was the first to use an EDTA compound for treatment of a human. This work was also done at Georgetown University, using the chelating ability of EDTA to assist in the carrying into a patient of the heavy metal nickel ­ with which it had been chemically bound ­ in a vain attempt to treat an advanced tumour. There were sadly no benefits to the patient, but perhaps more importantly from the viewpoint of the benefits later seen with EDTA usage, there were no harmful effects either: all of the nickel­EDTA complex which was put into the patient was found to be excreted via the urine, unchanged.

It was in the early 1950s that EDTA was first used in the treatment of lead poisoning, with pleasantly surprising and often dramatically unexpected results. Workers in battery factories frequently developed lead poisoning, as did sailors in the US Navy who painted ships with lead­based paint. Intravenous infusions of EDTA successfully dealt with this problem, and indeed to this day the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA suggests EDTA chelation as the ideal method of treating not only lead poisoning but also as the emergency treatment for hypercalcaemia. It was found that there was often a marked improvement in the circulatory status of patients with chronic lead poisoning, who also had atherosclerotic (atheromatous deposits in the arteries) conditions and who were being treated by EDTA infusion.

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About The Author
A practicing naturopath, osteopath, and acupuncturist in the United Kingdom, with over forty years clinical experience, Chaitow is Editor-in-Chief, of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. He regularly lectures in the United States as well as Europe where he instructs......more
 
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