Dangers of Calcium Disodium EDTA

Pickles, mayo, canned mushrooms and pecan pie filling have one thing in common: they all contain calcium disodium EDTA (E385). This ingredient is used in a variety of products, from foods and dietary supplements to detergents. Health care professionals often prescribe it for acute and chronic lead poisoning. The potential risks of EDTA depend largely on how it is used, but side effects are rare.

Calcium disodium EDTA is used to protect packaged food from spoiling. Credit: IgorGolovnov/RooM/GettyImages

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Calcium disodium EDTA is unlikely to cause adverse reactions when consumed in low doses. Higher intakes, though, may lead to mineral deficiencies and affect digestion. This food additive is considered safe.

As a chelating agent, EDTA may affect heart and kidney function. Additionally, it's often misused, which increases the risk of side effects.

What Is EDTA?

Ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) is one of the most commonly used food preservatives worldwide. It's also known as edetate calcium disodium or EDTA calcium disodium. Food manufacturers add it to mayo, salad dressings, spreads and canned legumes to preserve their color and flavor. Fermented malt beverages and distilled alcoholic beverages may contain this ingredient, too.

Read more: 20 Scary-Sounding Food Additives That Are Actually Harmless

Calcium disodium EDTA has been approved by the FDA as a food additive. It has the role to stabilize mixtures of oils and fats, promote color retention and extend food shelf life. This compound is also used in cosmetics, soaps, cleaning products and pharmaceuticals.

At its core, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid is a chelating agent that can form four or six bonds with a metal ion. Medical professionals use chelating agents to treat metal toxicity. EDTA is no exception.

This compound can be injected intravenously or intramuscularly. Its role is to rid the body of heavy metals, such as mercury or lead. According to a research paper published in Coordination Chemistry Reviews in May 2014, chelation therapy is often misused and may cause severe adverse reactions. Additionally, most claims made by practitioners lack scientific proof.

Risks of EDTA Chelation Therapy

Chelating agents, such as EDTA, have been used for decades in the treatment of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and other ailments. However, few studies support their effectiveness.

A March 2013 clinical trial published in JAMA assessed the impact of EDTA chelation therapy on individuals with a history of myocardial infarction. The risk of cardiac events decreased by 18 percent in subjects who received 40 infusions of a chelation mixture containing heparin, calcium disodium, electrolytes and other compounds. It's important to note, though, that 16 percent of participants left the study because of the side effects.

Hypocalcemia, or low calcium levels, occurred in 52 subjects in the chelation group and in 30 subjects in the placebo group. Another 57 chelation patients and 71 subjects in the placebo group experienced heart failure. One death was reported in each group. Researchers attribute these adverse effects to the study therapy.

According to Coordination Chemistry Reviews, most claims supporting this therapy may look scientifically sound but are often unreliable. The review cited one study conducted on 153 subjects with peripheral vascular disease in which EDTA didn't produce any significant results compared to a placebo. In clinical trials, it failed to improve atherosclerotic risk factors, physical performance or angina symptoms.

Calcium disodium is approved by the FDA for treating heavy metal toxicity, but not heart disease, autism, diabetes and other conditions. Alternative medicine practitioners, though, often misuse this chelating agent and make false claims. Furthermore, EDTA chelation therapy may cause mild to severe side effects, including but not limited to:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Burning sensation at the injection site
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Hypocalcemia
  • Bone marrow depression
  • Kidney problems

The FDA points out that Calcium Disodium Versenate, the injectable form of EDTA, should not be administered to people with hepatitis, anuria or kidney disease. In some patients, this substance can affect the kidneys to the same extent as lead poisoning. Additionally, it interferes with zinc insulin preparations. Common adverse effects include fatigue, chills, irregular heartbeat, excessive thirst, lack of appetite, tingling and allergic reactions.

Is Dietary EDTA Safe?

This food additive is generally recognized as safe. The maximum acceptable intake is 1.9 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, according to a research paper published in the_ EFSA Journal_ in August 2018. Large doses of EDTA may deplete your body of zinc. However, most foods contain only small amounts of calcium disodium, so overdosing is unlikely to occur.

Read more: 11 Banned Food Ingredients Still Allowed in the U.S.

In 2016, the Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture reviewed several food additives and their toxicity. Calcium disodium (E385) doesn't appear to have any side effects when consumed in low doses.

High intakes, on the other hand, can affect the absorption of zinc, copper and iron, leading to mineral deficiencies. They may also cause stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, hematuria (blood in urine) and other adverse reactions.

Read more: 7 Sketchy Ingredients Lurking in Your Beauty Products

If you prefer to avoid this additive, check food labels for E385. Cosmetics and personal care products may contain EDTA, too. Hair bleaches and dyes, shampoos, bath soaps and moisturizing creams are just a few examples. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there is no association between calcium disodium and cancer, immunotoxicity, allergies and reproductive disorders.

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