For Holford, “Chelation therapy is…valuable [and] naturopathic in concept”. It also kills.

1Patrick Holford argues that1 “Chelation therapy is a valuable option to consider in advanced heart disease, arterial disease (of legs and neck) and stroke recovery.” Chelation is an effective treatment for genuine heavy metal poisoning (e.g. for workers poisoned through working in the nuclear industry), which needs to be diagnosed through proper lab work. However, it is also often used to treat cardiovascular problems (chelation is claimed to treat hardening of the arteries), autism and similar conditions, and non-existent ‘heavy metal poisoning’, often diagnosed through dubious tests like hair mineral analysis2. For these purposes, chelation therapy is significantly worse than useless: this is a treatment which brings no benefit beyond placebo, and can kill3. It’s worth addressing this now because – due to a number of children and adults killed or injured through unnecessary chelation – this issue is currently getting some4 attention5 in the US health/medical/autism/neurodiversity blogs.

For Patrick Holford “[a]lthough [chelation] is given by medical doctors through an intravenous drip, it is essentially a detox process and is naturopathic in concept”. Holford goes on to recommend a clinic that carries out this treatment, and provide their contact details (which I won’t reproduce here – for reasons that should become clear below, I’m dubious about whether ‘alternative’ chelationists deserve the oxygen of oxygen – I’m certainly not going to give them the oxygen of publicity).

Orac looks at6 the case of Sandy Boylan – a woman in her 50s, killed when the naturopath Donald McBride decided to administer unnecessary chelation therapy. Boylan was (incorrectly) told that high levels of heavy metals caused the aches and pains that were troubling her. Chelation therapy was administered to draw these metals from her blood. However, this therapy for Sandy’s aches and pains killed her7:

chelation also withdraws metals the body needs, including calcium, which can lead to heart failure. Hooked up to the IV, Boylan collapsed and blacked out. She was taken to Salem Memorial Hospital, where she died that day of cardiac arrhythmia due to low calcium resulting from chelation therapy, according to a report by the state Medical Examiner.

Even more upsetting is the case of Abubakar Tariq Nadama8. Abubakar was a relatively healthy five year old autistic boy, being treated for what ‘lead poisoning’ which was diagnosed through horribly shoddy testing9. The treatment – administered in the office of Dr Roy Kerry – killed him. As Orac puts it10:

a five year old child who did not have to die died. He was held down for an IV push, went into cardiac arrest, and died. As we know, the cause of death was cardiac arrest due to a low calcium level, a known complication of chelation therapy.

So, this “valuable…naturopathic” treatment is both ineffective and potentially fatal. While Holford emphasises the importance of ‘number needed to treat11‘ when assessing ‘conventional’ treatments, it is a shame that he doesn’t apply similar standards to ‘alternative’ treatments such as chelation. Pretty much all effective medical treatments carry certain risks; however, ‘alternative’ chelation therapy is wholly ineffective, and the side effects can include death.

When writing about Abubakar’s death, Autism Diva notes that12

if you are reading this at work, or on a bus or a dentist’s waiting room, you might want to wait until you can get somewhere more private before you read the rest. You might get teary eyed or start crying.

There’s something horribly upsetting about the thought of a young, relatively healthy boy being held down to the chair while being injected with the chelation agents that killed him. It’s also dreadful to think that Sandy was killed by a completely pointless ‘therapy’ for her aches and pains.

I just can’t see how any responsible healthcare practitioner or advisor could suggest chelation therapy as an appropriate treatment for anything except properly diagnosed heavy metal poisoning. And I can’t get the image of Abubakar being held down – while those meant to be helping him administered the IV push that killed him – out of my head.

Update: Feb 2009. Chelation is not a risk-free procedure. There are clear indications that popular chelation interventions for children with autism may be contributing to neurological damage. It is long past time for Holford to change his advice and cease to recommend such dubious and dangerous procedures.



Filed under autism, cardiovascular disease, chelation, patrick holford, side effects

8 responses to “For Holford, “Chelation therapy is…valuable [and] naturopathic in concept”. It also kills.

  1. Shinga

    Those links were distressing, Jon.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the chelation treatment video over at Kevin Leitch? It beggars belief.

    For anybody who espouses chelation because it is nautropathic in concept, they will be relieved to learn that this treatment involves chelating with garlic and vinegar – and, no, you don’t eat them.

    In the discussion of that video, Prometheus has some observations about the lab reference values and results that rocked me back on my heels. “…some of the labs used by the chelationistas have “hedged” their bets by changing the “normal range” a bit. Instead of using two standard deviations on either side of the mean (mean +/- 2sd) as the “normal range”, they make the “normal range” only one standard deviation on either side of the mean (mean +/- 1sd).

    This “modified” method for expressing the “normal range” means that only 68% of the healthy population will have values within the “normal range” and – as a result – 32% of people who have no health problems will have “abnormal” lab values.”

    Regards – Shinga

  2. Jon

    IV garlic and vinegar – not really sure what to say… I’d heard garlic recommended for ‘oral chelation’ – at least eating garlic ain’t likely to hurt (pretty hard to OD) and may bring some health benefits – but who decided it would be a good idea to give it IV… Is there a protocol for sterilising garlic somehow?

    Then again, as the blog you linked points out, the hygiene in that vid looked pretty shocking. Especially striking the way the ‘nurse’ (was he an RN?) wiped the kids hand (with alcohol, I’d presume) then, rather than using gloves, wiped a couple of his fingertips with the same wipe. A real life Dr Nick…

  3. Shinga

    I was trying to explain to somebody why chelation is not a fab. idea in the absence of findings from a reputable lab. I explained the extreme disturbances that chelation can caused. I mentioned that calcium is a metal – and therefore likely to be perturbed by chelation. I got jumped all over because “even a pre-schooler knows that calcium is a mineral not a metal”. Sigh. Ditto for potassium.

    Why do I have the feeling that some people would happily submit their kids to IV garlic and vinegar but shriek about Wi-Fi?

    Regards – Shinga

  4. Steve Burnand

    Hi, is there evidence against chelation? Heavy metals are rife throughout modern living.

    Aluminium is now not considered to be a heavy metal yet its been directly linked to alzheimer’s!

    I am looking for advise in riding the body of heavy metals are there alternatives to chelation?

    Many criticise the ideas and work of other, but few offer alternatives.

    Looking for alternatives

  5. @Steve, if you were to read our recent post on aluminium, you would learn that aluminium is indeed ubiquitous and has been from the day this fabulous planet formed – it is not unique to modern-living.

    You will also find links to a discussion about aluminium and Alzheimer’s Disease by a neurologist, Steve Novella whose conclusions are:

    The evidence of aluminum and AD is mixed, without a clear direction. At present the best answer we have is that aluminum probably does not cause AD but appears to be playing some role, perhaps influencing severity. But even after 42 years, there remains a question mark next to these conclusions. We can rule out that aluminum is the single cause of AD, but whether or not it is an independent risk factor is a qualified “probably not.”

    So, Novella’s take on the matter, based on an analysis of appropriate sources, seems to be nuanced and does not support your assertion about a “direct link”.

    Chelation is practised in cases of known exposure or poisoning. Lastly, in the absence of known extraordinary exposure, why would you think that a substantial number of people are in need of chelation for aluminium or other metals? Why would you think it appropriate for people to run the risk of chelation in the absence of pressing clinical need?

    Some people cause healthscare panics by raising alarm over misunderstandings and non-issues, few ever correct them, even when they accept that they are wrong (and they are vanishingly few in number – most refuse to accept it.) In the absence of verifiable clinical need, I as much feel the need to provide an alternative to chelation as I do to someone who wants me to suggest an alternative to trepanning for a mental high.

  6. Mary Parsons

    It is such a coincidence that you posted this. At Respectful Insolence Dr Jay Gordon has conceded that it is inappropriate to scaremonger about the presence of formaldehyde in vaccines (and again) – yet he hasn’t announced any plans to contact those parents whom he has misled on this matter and reassure them that that particular fear is unfounded.

    He also seems to have a fear of aluminium in vaccines but I doubt that he will accept anyone’s reassurance on that – far less reorganise his website and education materials to reflect this new found understanding. That might be a retraction too far for the GOV crew.

  7. russ

    I have been a fan of oral chelation for years after seeing what it has done for others and as well for myself,
    My father was killed by a stent that took his life given to him by a doctor that assured him he would be taken well care of,
    yet i don’t hear of how doctors that push unnecessary procedures are critisized like chelation is,
    if done properly it is one of the safest treatments that one can have done

    Admin edit:

    i don’t hear of how doctors that push unnecessary procedures are critisized like chelation is

    Then you are reading some odd newspapers or news sources. You obviously failed to notice that this item is about a child and involved IV chelation for an alleged heavy metal poisoning that had been ‘diagnosed’ using dubious methods. This is almost the definition of an unnecessary procedure.

  8. Pingback: Patrick Holford Promotes Error: Does This Explain His Continuing Support for Opposing MMR and Supporting Andrew Wakefield’s Research? « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

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