Andy Cutler Chelation (ACC)
This blog post is a follow up to one I wrote about a year ago called It’s Not Just Flint, in which I started to address my lead and mercury poisoning. Although much of what I learned still holds true, I’ve learned a lot more since then. In this post, I’ll be mostly focused on describing the Andy Cutler Chelation (ACC) Protocol, as I am planning to start it in the next few months.
What Got Me Here
Healthwise, the first half of last year was amazingly good, especially over the summer. The combination of Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) plus the ketogenic approach (less than 20-25 grams of carbs per day) helped me regulate my blood sugar and lose about 25 pounds. But it was more than just the weight – I had so much energy and clarity of mind. I still didn’t have a ton of energy for exercise, but overall I felt fantastic. I felt more like my old self than I have in nearly ten years. I wanted to hold on to that feeling! Using all my new energy, I was pushing for another level of recovery, and focused on identifying and irradicating my root cause. Unfortunately, as is often the case with autoimmune diseases, in attempting to make more changes, my healing plateaued and then regressed. I’m just now starting to figure out what happened; this post is the summary of what I learned, and what I am planning to do about it. Please note that I am not a healthcare practitioner, so this post should not be construed as medical advice. Nonetheless, I do hope it will help other patients to who are facing similar challenges.
As part of my ongoing work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner (FMP), in late October, I had an environmental toxins test run by Great Plains Labs. It confirmed many things we suspected (like petroleum products), but it also pointed to other toxins (like pesticides) that I had not considered, and which don’t show in traditional heavy metals or tap water tests.
“Mercury (and other heavy metals) have the effects by taking up residence in the active site of certain enzymes where some other metal is supposed to be sitting. Thus these enzymes stop detoxifying pollutants and naturally occurring toxins and the victim becomes more sensitive to air quality, foods and chemicals. … Ultimately victims may develop ‘multiple chemical sensitivities’ or ‘environmental illness.’ The most typical sensitivity is anxiety on exposure to hydrocarbons as in paint fumes, exhaust, etc.” (Cutler 1999, p.28)
A follow up amino acids test showed that most of my B vitamin levels were still flat, in spite of multiple years of supplements. My doctor had explained to me that lead blocked the passage of B vitamins into the cells, so lead is the likely reason why. B vitamins help your body convert food into energy, so I suspected that lead poisoning was a major factor in not being as energetic as I wanted.
Based on all of those factors, my doctor wanted me to accelerate my detox efforts. She prescribed glutathione, chlorella, charcoal, CoQ12, and acetyl carnitine. I was already taking the last two, but she increased the dose of both. Unfortunately, she didn’t check to make sure I had all my mercury fillings removed first (I hadn’t), which is a must before beginning any major detox effort. Amalgam fillings are 50% mercury, and they off gas into your body whenever you bite down or attempt to detox. Detoxification done badly just moves the metals around, and doesn’t ultimately draw them out.
Needless to say, in the past few months, I have not been feeling well. My energy was really intermittent, my head wasn’t as clear … I was a lifetime away from how I had felt over the summer. I had a string of weird, unpleasant, or embarrassing symptoms that reminded me I’m still sick. I developed terrible acne (which I haven’t had in years), and a terrible rash on my neck and chest – both at the same time. Here is what I learned the hard way:
- During that time I also had a clogged saliva gland, which I had treated by an Chinese medicine practitioner. He told me that the acne is a side effect of the chlorella, because it release toxins into the bloodstream, but it doesn’t bind to them. If you are unable to detox (or your detoxification pathways are overloaded for some reason), the body releases toxins through the skin. Needless to say, I stopped the chlorella and the acne gradually subsided. I’m sure more than my ego was damaged in the process.
- The rash on my neck and chest was itchy and uncomfortable, and it was horrible after eating sauerkraut and then leftovers the next day. I wondered if it was a new allergy. However, I remembered that I had had a similar rash over the summer after eating lobster and shrimp. Through my research I deduced that the rash was likely a histamine response. Sauerkraut is a common trigger, as is shellfish.
In other words, these side effects were as a result of (and intertwined with) other types of detox; when detox pathways are comprised, histamine response is one of the side effects. It became increasingly clear that I needed to get educated about my detox options, so that I could have an in depth discussion with my doctor. I knew that in order to truly heal, I would ultimately need to deal with the heavy metal poisoning.
Through my reading, I found the Andrew Cutler Chelation (ACC) protocol. It is primarily focused on ‘amalgam illness’, but it addresses other heavy metals as well. Andy Cutler was a Ph.D. level chemist, and a former NASA employee. He cured his own mercury poisoning, and then made all of his learnings available to others. He is described as a “great humanitarian”; in reading his books and his posts, I found him to be very direct, which might be off-putting for some; I found it refreshing to have someone admit that doctors (on the whole) have no idea how to address heavy metals poisoning. His simple explanations make it possible for even the most mercury toxic to take the necessary steps to begin chelation.
Before he passed away last year, he wrote two books: Amalgam Illness, Diagnosis, and Treatment: What you can do to get better, and how your doctor can help (1999) and Hair Test Interpretation: Finding Hidden Toxicities (2004). Those books are available though his website or Amazon. Apparently a new co-authored book by Rebecca Rust Lee and Andy is coming out in Spring 2018. The new book is supposed to be more of a ‘chelation guide for dummies’, which should help those of us dealing with brain fog as a result of our health issues.
I finished Amalgam Illness a few weeks ago. I found it incredibly detailed and very dense, while a little rambling and repetitive at times. Perhaps most importantly, it made the path forward for my specific situation very clear. It quickly became obvious to me that the symptoms of mercury poisoning are almost indistinguishable from those of an autoimmune disease. He outlines the major systems of the body that can be affected, and many of the things he described are true for me (thyroid issues, low pancreas function, issues with blood sugar regulation, multiple chemical sensitivities, dull hair color). I also learned that mercury and lead are synergistic – lucky me. Furthermore, the things he said to avoid (such as glutathione, chlorella) are treatments my doctor recently prescribed and have been making me more sick. So, overall it has resonated, and it has been eye opening.
While the books have been helpful, the patient communities have been fantastic. You can join them on Facebook here and here. Some people have described them as fanatical (indeed, the adult-focused group is called acfanatics), and I do understand why. After so many years of misdiagnosis and bad treatment plans, when you find something that is proven to work, you don’t really want to hear about all the rest. The publicly-available testimonials are thought-provoking; there are a number of people who have made significant improvements in their health, including parents treating young autistic children and seeing them engage with the world in a more and more neurotypical way.
One of the challenges these groups face, however, is that more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that their health issues might be related to heavy metal poisoning. The size of the groups has grown exponentially – the growth curve looks like a hockey stick, and the admins have told us they are adding as many as 75 people a day. This is extraordinary awareness and growth in a very short period of time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the trend continues given the growing public awareness about the toxicity of our environment.
While the admins are wonderful, it’s clear that they are taxed. They are reviewing hair tests, bitewing x-rays, and answering hundreds of questions every day from panicked newbies like me. So, I figure the more people can learn on their own, the better off we’ll all be. This is my attempt to summarize the approach based on what I have learned so far. I am definitely not an expert, but I hope it will give others some high level information to evaluate whether this might be the right approach for them, too.
Before you begin
You must have your mercury fillings removed using a biological dentist. This is one of the biggest mistakes my current physician made, and I am still enraged about it. Chelating with amalgams only makes matters worse! Biological dentists have special training and certifications, so they know how to keep your chemical exposure and risk to a minimum. You can use the the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology website to find one. Forget going to the family dentist. There are special operating procedures and equipment for doing this properly, so it’s important not to have it done by just anyone. All mercury fillings need to be removed, and all crowns also need to be lifted, as even a tiny bit of mercury (a dreaded ‘speck’) can cause horrible side effects during chelation. This is serious enough that the patient communities recommend posting bitewings to the board (for review by volunteer dentists) before beginning chelation. Other metals in the body (e.g. knee replacement, metal plates) also need to be checked to confirm they don’t pose a risk during chelation.
Do not do provoked (or even unprovoked) chelation tests. This is why my doctor had me do initially. My provoked test used 750 mg of DMSA; in contrast the starting dose for Andy’s protocol is 12.5 mg. By taking such a high one-time dose, a lot of metals are released, but not necessarily all bound and excreted. So, it’s dangerous. Furthermore, an unprovoked urine test will show lead, but for an older mercury exposure like mine, the mercury is typically stored in organs (including the brain), and it doesn’t come out in a urine test.
If you are not sure you have heavy metal poisoning, a good option is to get a hair test. There is a recommended test that can be requested without a doctor’s prescription. The results can be read using Andy’s second book, or with the help of the admins in the patient support communities. If the exposure was some time in the past, the metals may not show high (again, due to where they are being stored). But, the test will show whether you have a deranged ‘mineral transport system’, which in turn helps determine what kinds of issues you may be facing, as well as what additional supplementation may be beneficial during chelation.
Finally, Andy recommended a series of supplements that the online communities call ‘the Core 4’. They include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Magnesium, and Zinc – all in significantly higher doses than the daily recommended allowance. I am not going to provide the dosing here; please do check out the book and the various ACC-approved websites for details. Other supplements may also be needed based on your specific situation (as indicated by your hair test or other health history).
Perhaps the most important information that Andy contributed to the treatment of amalgam illness is ensuring everyone understands the half life of these chelation agents, and the implications for treatment. Most of them have a 3-4 hour half life, which means they have to be taken multiple times a day, or you risk worsening of your condition.
In my case, I am going to take DMSA because it draws out both lead and mercury. The half life is four hours, which means that while I am ‘on round’ I need to take it every four hours, including during the night. There is another agent called DMPS that has an eight hour half life, and it is also more cost effective – but in my case it was not an option, unfortunately.
So, you take the lowest possible starting dose of DMSA, and you do it every four hours for three days, and then you rest and recover for four days. And then you do it again. On the boards, people often post their questions along with their round number: “Hi, I’m on round 150, and I have a question about …”. After some time (and if tolerated), you increase the dose by 50%, e.g. from 5 mg to 7.5 mg, and so on. Obviously, if you can tolerate a higher dose, you’ll chelate faster, but in this case faster is not always better. It’s better to go slow and keep side effects to a minimum, because this is definitely a marathon and not a sprint.
After the first three months, you add a second chelation agent called alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), also in gradually increasing doses as tolerated. You wait to start the ALA because it is the only way to safely and effectively remove mercury from the brain, and you don’t want to do that until you’ve gone through that first wave of removal of the toxins in your bloodstream, first.
What Not to Do
There also some clear warnings about what not to do. Don’t use IV chelation (too aggressive, impossible to avoid redistributing the metals), don’t use glutathione (IV or otherwise), chlorella, or cilantro. All these release the metals, but don’t bind them, thus (as I have experienced firsthand) they make you worse instead of better. In some cases, sulphuric foods may need to be avoided, as they can also cause redistribution of metals.
Once people know there is a clear path forward to healing, they want to move quickly. However, it is really important not to chelate continuously. The body needs time to rest and recover, and your body will also stop responding to the chelation agents if it doesn’t get a break. How fast before you start to feel better, then? That was one of my big questions, too, so I’ve summarized my learnings below.
What to Expect
In Amalgam Illness (p.79), Andy described four levels of sickness (1) seriously chronically poisoned (2) seriously acutely poisoned (3) moderately chronically poisoned, or (4) some other problem that might be mercury induced. He describes the different levels, and what to expect in each case. My best guess is that I am a #3. He says:
“Complications are not expected. The patient will experience prompt relief from the prescription of standard supplements and medications to start with, and their life need not be greatly interfered with.”
I really hope that will be true for me! But ultimately how quickly you heal and how you feel along the way has everything do with how toxic you are, your body’s natural ability to detox (which he discussed in detail in the book), and more. There is no one answer, and no way to predict ahead of time. However, there are some clear milestones in the process (1) starting chelation four days after the last filling comes out (2) adding ALA to the program after three months, and then (3) ‘the dump’. Finally (4) symptoms ameliorate, and you continue chelation for some months after that. On the patient boards, there is a lot of discussion about this phase. Andy described it as follows:
“Once your source of mercury exposure is removed, e.g. you get your amalgam fillings replaced, your bloodstream clears of mercury and your urine and blood mercury decline during the first several months. Then your organs start to dump their mercury out. Your blood and urine mercury go back up again. … You will be at your worst about 6 months after amalgam removal if you stop using chelating agents after you start to feel good 2-3 months out.” (Cutler 1999, p.52)
In other words, it gets better, then worse, and finally better again.
Everyone waits for ‘the dump’ because, uncomfortable as it is, it’s a clear sign of progress. For a ‘moderately chronically poisoned’ person like myself, the worst of it will (hopefully!) be over in six months to a year; for more severely poisoned individuals, it could take several years.
Naturally, there are some possible side effects from the protocol. There is the risk of adrenal fatigue, and also of Candida, but both of these can be managed with the right supplementation. There are also problems which occur if you chelate too aggressively or with the wrong agents, as discussed earlier. However, the long term effect of leaving lead and mercury intact puts us at risk of many other illnesses, including more autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s, and more.
I am headed to my first appointment with a biological dentist this week, so I am looking forward to taking my first steps along this journey. Since this post is a little off-topic, I probably won’t be posting updates as I go. However, I really do hope I’ll have good news to share for Thyroid Awareness Month at this time next year.
I hope you found this helpful, and I wish you the best on your own healing journey, wherever it leads you.
Andy Cutler Chelation group (adult focused) on Facebook
Fight Autism & Win group (child focused) on Facebook
Cutler Protocol Success Stories parents’ stories about autistic kids are extraordinary
An accessible summary of the protocol from New Zealand
Another summary, focused mainly on the chelation process
Mercury Detox: Information, Tools, and Resources from a seasoned ACC group member
Andy’s No Amalgam website, where you can buy both his books
His books are also available on Amazon
This list is by no means exhaustive, as I’m still reading and learning, myself; if there is something you think I’d enjoy (or you’d really like to see added), drop me a note.