Once again, the Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on products touted mainly on the Web as a cure for everything from autism to plaque buildup in the arteries.
EDTA, a chelation chemical, surrounds a copper atom.
The agency issued eight warning letters today to companies marketing chelation products without a prescription, and is telling patients not to use them.
"FDA is concerned that patients will delay seeking proven, sometimes essential medical care, when relying on unproven OTC chelation products to treat serious conditions such as heart and blood vessel disease," the FDA said in a statement today.
In chelation (pronounced kee-LAY-shun) therapy, a man-made amino acid is injected into a patient's veins and binds with heavy metals. It then turns into a compound that allows the body to pass the metals through urine.
Doctors use it to treat poisoning with lead or copper, but it's not without potentially nasty side effects — stuff like kidney failure, dehydration and sometimes, death.
Chelation therapy is approved by for treating victims of poisoning, but where it gets dicey, FDA says, is when people use it for other things.
There products are particularly concerning because they "target patients and caregivers of patients that have serious conditions with limited treatment options," said FDA's Michael Levy said today.
The products FDA is warning about take many forms, from nasal sprays to clay baths and even illegal screening tests for metals.
There are no studies accepted by the medical community proving these therapies work for autism or Alzheimer's or other health problems. Recently a father filed a fraud lawsuit against a doctor who providing the therapy to his autistic child.
At least 100,000 people reported they used chelation therapy in 2007 to treat hardened arteries, according to the National Institutes of Health. NIH is studying the treatment for that use, and results are expected sometime in 2012.