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EDTA is a molecule called a chelating agent. A chelating agent is a claw-like substance that can grab and stick to other molecules.

Some types of EDTA stick to calcium. Other types stick to metals, such as lead.

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Why do people take EDTA?

EDTA is sometimes prescribed by doctors to clean toxic metals, such as lead, from the blood. Doctors have used the molecule for decades to treat heavy metal poisoning. In those cases it is given through an IV.

EDTA is also an ingredient in some prescription cancer-fighting medicines.

Supplement makers claim that over-the-counter forms of EDTA can be taken by mouth to "detox" the body and make your gastrointestinal tract healthier. There is no scientific evidence to support this.

Some have also advertised that EDTA might help fight clogged arteries (arteriosclerosis) by removing cholesterol and plaque from the bloodstream. Again, there is no research to show this really works.

Some people take EDTA to try to treat:

  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Autism
  • Heart disease

However, evidence is lacking that EDTA works for those conditions. Recent studies say it is not helpful and may even be dangerous.

Optimal doses of EDTA supplements have not been set. Supplement ingredients and quality may vary widely. This makes it hard to set a standard dose.

Can you get EDTA naturally from foods?

EDTA is a chemical that is added to certain foods and beverages to help them keep their color and flavor. For instance, it is sometimes added to:

  • Sodas
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners
  • Condiments such as mayonnaise
  • Salad dressings

The FDA says EDTA is considered safe for use in foods in the U.S.

What are the risks of taking EDTA?

The most common side effect of EDTA is burning at the IV site.

Chelating agents can also have serious, even life-threatening side effects. One of the most serious side effects of EDTA is kidney damage and kidney failure.

Other side effects that have been reported in patients taking some forms of EDTA have included:

  • Anemia
  • Chills, fever, or headache
  • Blood clot in a vein
  • Lower levels of magnesium and potassium in the blood
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Low calcium levels in the blood
  • Insulin shock
  • Irregular heartbeats, which can be severe
  • Low blood pressure
  • Thirst
  • Aching joints

EDTA supplements may interfere with medicines you are taking. EDTA can interact with:

EDTA can also interact with diuretics (water pills). It may lead to dangerously low potassium levels. This can cause severe, irregular heartbeats. Make sure your doctor knows if you are taking any of these medicines.

Talk to your doctor before taking EDTA if you take any medicines or have any of these conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease, including hepatitis
  • Low levels of calcium, magnesium, or potassium
  • Seizure disorders
  • Tuberculosis

Always tell your doctor about any medicines and supplements you are taking, including natural ones and those bought without a prescription. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with any of your medicines or health conditions.  

Supplements are not regulated by the FDA.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 31, 2012

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