Gadolinium MRI Recalls & Poisoning: is Chelation a Treatment Solution?

Some victims of Nephrogenic System Fibrosis due to gadolinium toxicity are turning to chelation in hopes of ridding their bodies of the toxic heavy metal.  Among them: Gena Norris, wife of popular film star Chuck Norris, who filed a lawsuit in California last year against three manufacturers of gadolinium-based contrasting agents (GABAs). 

Gena Norris was injected with a GABA in preparation for a routine MRI and has suffered from the debilitating side effects ever since.  She has undergone chelation treatments in order to remove the gadolinium from her system.  Other victims of gadolinium poisoning have been exploring this treatment as well. 

What is chelation?  Is it effective?

Chelation therapy dates from the mid-1930s.  It involves the use of a compound known as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, or EDTA.  Originally, this chemical was developed as a replacement for citric acid that was used to remove minerals from water.  However, during the Second World War, scientists discovered that EDTA was an effective treatment for lead poisoning as well. 

Later on, a U.S. Navy physician noted that patients who had been treated with EDTA for lead poisoning and suffered from angina (insufficient blood flow to the heart) experienced improvement in their symptoms.  However, a scientific review in 1997 found no evidence of chelation’s efficacy as a treatment for coronary disease.

Chelation remains a first-line treatment for toxic heavy metal poisoning from lead, iron, mercury, uranium and plutonium as well as arsenic.  A special medication is administered either intravenously or through an injection into muscle tissues.  The chelating agent binds to heavy metal molecules in the bloodstream. They are then excreted normally.  Because of the inherent risks, doctors who administer chelation therapy must have special training and exercise extreme caution.

Chelation therapy for any purpose other than treatment of the aforementioned conditions is not approved by the FDA.  Because of this, the Norrises have had to seek the treatment through alternative sources.  It is also extremely expensive. According to their complaint, the Norrises have spent almost $2 million for chelation treatments.

How well has it worked?  One unidentified patient reports having mixed results.  Six weeks after undergoing chelation therapy, the levels of gadolinium in his system had dropped significantly.  However, three months later, those levels had risen by 700 percent. 

He says that nobody who has undergone chelation therapy for gadolinium poisoning has been able to get rid of all the toxin in their body, though some report getting relief from the worst of the symptoms.  A 1998 study found that use of chelating compounds removed only 75% of the gadolinium from a patient’s body following an MRI procedure.

Ongoing chelation treatments can cost $25,000 a year or more.  Orally-administered EDTA supplements are available from several online vendors. However, while these are much cheaper (around $10 a bottle) the effectiveness of these supplements has not been subject to scientific studies, and they are not approved by the FDA.

Conclusion: chelation therapy may offer some temporary relief, but it is not a reliable treatment.