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Chelation agents

Category: Actions



Introduction and description


Chelation therapy is the administration of chelating agents principally by injection or by mouth, to remove toxins from the body.

When chelation agents are applied to the planet it is called bioremediation. 

As both are being described here - chelation therapy of people and our fellow creatures and bioremediation of the planet, we have used the general term chelation agents or in other words 'using chelations agents to chelate'!

 It has a long history of use in clinical toxicology, but with the ever increasing use of toxins in industry and farming, the use of toxins in food processing and the cumulative effect of toxins from mining and fossil fuel burning, it has become not only a hot topic, but one of the most important topics on the site.

Types of chelating agent

Some of the following agents are relatively well established, but some are almost completely new and still undergoing proving, the problem is always that the more one group of scientists release a new batch of toxins, another batch of scientists has to beaver away trying to find ways of mitigating the damage they have caused:

    Metal chelating agents  - remove heavy metals from the body. For the most common forms of heavy metal intoxication – lead, arsenic, cadmium or mercury – a number of chelating agents are available, but many of these also have efficacy against aluminium and nickel. Given the somewhat ridiculous overuse by some people of mineral supplements - iron supplements and even molybdenum supplements - the metal chelators have also found a use in removing imbalances in these normally non-toxic heavy metals, which have become toxic by maladministration.
  • Smoke chelation agents act on the smoke particles from cigarettes and on the particles from diesel fumes and other smoke emissions from power stations, factories and vehicles.  They are thus largely [but not exclusively] carbon chelators
  • Chemical warfare agents or organophosphate pesticide chelating agents - act to try to counteract the effects of these related substances.  CWAs and pesticides are both indirect acting ACh receptor agonists, that work by inhibiting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. The resulting accumulation of acetylcholine causes continuous stimulation of the muscles, glands, and central nervous system. Both increase the action of acetylcholine by delaying its degradation; it is pot luck whether they are being used as nerve agents (Sarin and VX nerve gas) or pesticides.
  • these need more work...............
    Pesticide chelating agents - this is almost a category in its own right and is something of a challenge for the medical fraternity.  A vast range of pesticides exists many of which have toxic effects, as such chelating agents are needed for every single type and the subtypes within each type, for example
  • the salt of the earth, women, always having to
    clear up the mess others make
    Endocrine disruptors chelating agents - endocrine disruptors are one group of toxins that seem to have a particularly extraordinary effect in that they are the source of numerous illnesses completely destroying the endocrine system's balance.  The chelating agents here attempt to bring the system back into balance
  • Nanoparticle  chelating agents - are only just beginning to be conceptualised.  The need is urgent as the effects are devastating.  Nanoparticles are extremely small particles of chemicals.  There is considerable concern in the environmental community of the effects of these particles on both health and the environment with papers on Pubmed linking them to lung cancer, brain damage, COPD, eye problems and so on.  The environmental impact has the potential to be catastrophic as there appears to be proof that nanoparticles affect marine life as well as land based animals.  To put this less scientifically nanoparticles - particularly those based on metals have the potential to wipe out marine life.
  • Other miscellaneous chelating agents -include substances to counteract chemicals like

From EDTA and Chelation Therapy: History and Mechanisms of Action, an Update  Garry F. Gordon, MD, DO, MD(H)
...... In the past 50 years, it is estimated that over one million patients have received intravenous chelation therapy with one widely used chelator, EDTA. Unfortunately, I believe we may have still failed to discover the primary mechanism(s) of action responsible for the frequently dramatic clinical improvements seen in numerous apparently unrelated conditions treated with EDTA and/or other chelators, unless it is simply that the binding and/or removal of toxic metals permits improved metabolic functioning in a variety of conditions. With science documenting the adverse effects of commonly encountered low levels of heavy metals on health, it is possible that chelation therapy is being vastly underutilized in standard medicine and that combinations of new and existing Chelating agents may need to be employed to deal with the broader spectrum of toxins now being identified as contributors to many if not most diseases...

The options


There are some very very heavy duty chemicals that can be used, under doctor supervision and with extremely careful control, that are used to help people who have extremely severe poisoning, examples include:

  • EDTA - Ethylenediaminetetraacetate is used intravenously and is approved for use in lead poisoning.
  • DMSA - Dimercaptosuccinic acid has been recommended for the treatment of lead, antimony,  mercury, and arsenic.  There is doubt being cast in some scientific circles about the efficacy of DMSA and whether within cell toxins are actually chelated.  More data is needed here, as none of the chemicals in this group are 'safe', all have inherent risks.
  • DMPS - 2,3-dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid acute has been proven largely on mercury poisoning
  • BAL - is used medically in treatment of arsenic, mercury, gold, lead, antimony, and other toxic metal poisoning

Heavy duty Chelation therapy should only be used as a treatment for severe mercury, iron (including in cases of thalassemia), arsenic, lead, uranium, plutonium and other forms of very toxic metal poisoning that require almost emergency treatment.

In effect, if the person is in no immediate danger, other - often food based - options may be less risky.  The chelating agent may be administered intravenously, intramuscularly, or orally, depending on the agent and the type of poisoning.

In conditions caused by heavy metal poisoning, it may only halt the process of the disease and damage being done, it cannot of itself cure the person. For example in cases of multiple sclerosis caused by heavy metal poisoning, there are case studies on Pubmed that show it can halt the disease, but whether the body then manages to recover, depends on the healing processes of the body itself.

Medical evidence does not support the effectiveness of [this type] of chelation therapy for any other purpose than the treatment of heavy metal poisoning. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers over-the-counter (OTC) chelation products to be "unapproved", and thus it is a violation of U.S. federal law to make unproven claims about them.



Bran - Bran contains phytate, and phytate can be used as a chelating agent in cases of overdose of zinc or iron, calcium and magnesium. 

Even if used as a chelating agent, there must be careful monitoring of the other minerals and also monitoring of niacin.

Phytate also acts as an acid, chelating the vitamin niacin, the deficiency of which is known as pellagra.

Natural agents in food

Natural chelating agents are generally polyphenols.  Not all polyphenols are chelators, but all chelating agents are polyphenols by definition because they are a sub-class.  Polyphenols are a group of chemicals that act as a plant's defence system, analogously they combine the role of skin, plus immune system, gastrointestinal system plus kidneys in human beings - repel, attack, entomb, kill and flush away/expel.  We can define a polyphenol as any chemical that is by virtue of its structure a naturally occurring:

  • Anti-fungal
  • Antibiotic
  • Anti-viral
  • Radiation ameliorator or protector
  • Anti-parasitic or anti-predator [including all the other words used to describe this ability, for example, anthelmintic, insecticide, pesticide]
  • Chelator of heavy metals and other toxins
  • Chelator of  ‘bad air’

We are thus interested here in the chelating actions of a plant chemical.  There are several thousand polyphenol types and even more chemicals, and even if we home in on the chelators, we are still dealing with a very large group of chemicals.  Thus we decided the most helpful thing was to provide examples, using Dr Duke's database and research to help us.

At the moment research often establishes that one specific plant chemical has anti-viral or anti-bacterial, or chelating properties.  The exciting and challenging area for research in the future will be matching plant chemicals with specific pathogens and matching plant chemicals with specific toxins. 

Example natural chelating agents

If you follow the links, it takes you to the science section with a definition and in most cases a list of the plants that contain this chemical, the list being derived from Dr Duke's phytochemical database:

Sulphur - sulphur can react as either an oxidant or reducing agent. It oxidizes most metals and several nonmetals, including carbon, and it reduces several strong oxidants, such as oxygen and fluorine. At one time sulphur rich waters- such as those found at hot springs and in volcanic areas, were drunk to treat lead poisoning – and it worked.  Sulphur's ability to react with carbon makes it a useful chemical - in food or mineral water, to counteract the various forms of smoke, so it is a smoke chelating agent.  This may explain why the French - former lovers of the Gauloises cigarrete [how I miss the smell] and ingestors of large quantities of garlic, had few heart problems.


Malic acid - There are also natural chelating agents for other metals - malic acid has been used for iron intoxication and nickel poisoning for example. It has also been used to 'heal' land.  The malic acid in alafalfa chelated molybdenum in mine tailings making the land safe for cattle.  It appeared to do the plant no harm and the plant converted it to a harmless chemical.  Another example:

Plants have evolved various mechanisms for detoxification that are specific to the plant species as well as the metal ion chemical properties. Malic acid, which is commonly found in plants, participates in a number of physiological processes including metal chelation. Using natural variation among Arabidopsis accessions, we investigated the function of malic acid in Nickel (Ni) tolerance and detoxification. The Ni-induced production of reactive oxygen species was found to be modulated by intracellular malic acid, indicating its crucial role in Ni detoxification. Ni tolerance in Arabidopsis may actively involve malic acid and/or complexes of Ni and malic acid. Investigation of malic acid content in roots among tolerant ecotypes suggested that a complex of Ni and malic acid may be involved in translocation of Ni from roots to leaves. PMID:  22411507



Carnosol - is a naturally occurring phenolic diterpene.  It is found in Rosemary, various sorts of Sage and in a small number of other plants.  It is a metal chelator [Ref McEvily, A.J., Iyengar, R., and Gross, A.T. Inhibition of Polyphenol Oxidase by Phenolic Compounds. Phenolic Compounds in Food and Their Effects on Health, Ch.25.]

Caffeic acid - Caffeic acid is an organic compound found in all plants because it is a key intermediate in the biosynthesis of lignin.  Lignin is part of the cell wall of plants and helps to give the cell structure and mechanical strength and thus by extension the plant as a whole. It has metal chelating activities.

Chlorogenic acid - is a natural chemical compound found in coffee beans, bilberries, blueberries and nettles.  It is a metal chelator. [McEvily, A.J., Iyengar, R., and Gross, A.T. Inhibition of Polyphenol Oxidase by Phenolic Compounds. Phenolic Compounds in Food and Their Effects on Health, Ch.25.

Anthocyanidins - Plants rich in anthocyanins are Vaccinium species, such as blueberry, cranberry, and bilberry; Rubus berries, including black raspberry, red raspberry, and blackberry; blackcurrant, cherry, eggplant peel, black rice, Concord grape, muscadine grape, red cabbage, and violet petals.  There is known metal chelating ability and one metal tentatively tested is aluminium.  More work is needed here.


Curcumin - Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid of turmeric, which is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). The curcuminoids are natural phenols that are responsible for the yellow colour of turmeric.  They are indications that it is an iron chelator, but by saying this one rather simplifies the activity, you need to see the detail.

Ferulic acid - Ferulic acid is a hydroxycinnamic acid, a type of organic compound. It is an abundant phenolic phytochemical found in plant cell walls. Its name comes from the word Ferula, referring to the giant fennel. Ferulic acid, like many natural phenols, is an antioxidant and a metal chelator.

Tannins - A tannin is an astringent, bitter plant polyphenol that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids.  They occur in numerous plants including well known ones like black tea.  Unfortunately although the chelating ability is known it is not well defined, with mercury being one known metal.

Plants as detoxifiers of land


There is little use our using chelating agents if the land on which our food is grown or the sea in which our seafoods are obtained is still polluted.

We have seen in the example of malic acid above that plants such as alfalfa can remove toxins from soil.  This facility is one shared by a number of plants, for example:

Decontamination of polluted soils using plants is based on the ability of plant species (including transgenic plants) to enhance bioavailability of pollutants in the rhizosphere and support growth of pollutant-degrading microorganisms via root exudation and plant species-specific composition of the exudates. In this work, we review current knowledge of enantiomers of low-molecular-weight (LMW) organic compounds with emphasis on their use in phytoremediation. Many research studies have been performed to search for plants suitable for decontamination of polluted soils. Nevertheless, the natural occurrence of L- versus D-enantiomers of dominant compounds of plant root exudates which play different roles in the complexation of heavy metals, chemoattraction, and support of pollutant-degrading microorganisms were not included in these studies. D-enantiomers of aliphatic organic acids and amino acids or L-enantiomers of carbohydrates occur in high concentrations in root exudates of some plant species, especially under stress, and are less stimulatory for plants to extract heavy metals or for rhizosphere microflora to degrade pollutants compared with L-enantiomers (organic acids and amino acids) or D-carbohydrates. Determining the ratio of L- versus D-enantiomers of organic compounds as a criterion of plant suitability for decontamination of polluted soils and development of other types of bioremediation technologies need to be subjects of future research.  PMID: 24249143


Any plant that upon analysis contains a toxin, when it has no need of that toxin itself is, by definition capable of chelating the soil. 

In the science section we have provided some examples of dangerous toxins and the plants that contained a toxin upon analysis. The lists are from Dr Duke's phytochemical database.  The implications are also clear, that it is not safe to eat these plants if they have been grown on contaminated land.

Once the chelation of the land is complete, the plants need to be disposed of safely, for example placed in a deep pit - an open cast mine for example or other deep hole in the ground - where they cannot resurface and where their contaminants are safely buried.

 If you go to Dr Duke's database you will  be able to get an up-to-date list for other toxins.

There is the possibility that if the plant itself is toxin free and the part that collects the toxin is edible, the plant may be able to chelate us too, thus this aspect is worth investigating to see if there are plants we do no yet know about that can help us, not just the soil.

Plants as the detoxifiers of air


 We have listed the chemicals that can chelate carbon from us, and those same chemicals in plants can also help with carbon chelation, although it is clear that plants suffer dramatically from fumes. 

But there is a group of plants that are Ozone scavengers. 

All are based on Limonene, a list of these plants is to be found in the science section.

The list comes from Dr Duke's phytochemical database and may be updated with more plants in due course, as such you will need to go to Dr Duke to get an up-to-date list.


References and further reading

J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jul 9;56(13):5437-42. doi: 10.1021/jf800489c. Epub 2008 Jun 11.  Chelation of molybdenum in Medicago sativa (alfalfa) grown on reclaimed mine tailings. Steinke DR1, Majak W, Sorensen TS, Parvez M.  Author information  1Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 3015 Ord Road, Kamloops, B.C., Canada. steinked@agr.gc.ca  PMID:  18543934

Chirality. 2014 Jan;26(1):1-20. doi: 10.1002/chir.22255. Epub 2013 Nov 19.  Natural occurrence of enantiomers of organic compounds versus phytoremediations: should research on phytoremediations be revisited? A mini-review.  Lojková L1, Vranová V, Rejšek K, Formánek P.  PMID: 24249143

Planta. 2012 Aug;236(2):477-89. doi: 10.1007/s00425-012-1621-2. Epub 2012 Mar 13.  Natural variation among Arabidopsis accessions reveals malic acid as a key mediator of Nickel (Ni) tolerance.  Agrawal B1, Lakshmanan V, Kaushik S, Bais HP.

McEvily, A.J., Iyengar, R., and Gross, A.T. -  Phenolic Compounds in Food and Their Effects on Health



We have provided a table in the Science section that attempts to summarise the information in the observations.  Follow the LINK.


Related observations