Chelation therapy was originally developed, in the 1940s, as a treatment for heavy metal and radiation poisoning. The therapy takes the form of an intravenous infusion containing artificial amino acids known as EDTA.
By the 1960s research into cardiac disease had established that the plaque found in diseased artery walls contained calcium. Since it was believed that EDTA, as used in chelation therapy, binds calcium research began into the efficacy of this procedure in dissolving existing arterial plaque build up or even prevent its formation.
Patients today generally receive up to thirty sessions of the therapy, which takes between two and four hours, in the first month of treatment, followed by monthly infusions. Patients are also expected to make the usual lifestyle changes to diet and lifestyle in order to achieve the maximum benefit of this procedure.
What is the evidence?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that patients who have undergone chelation therapy notice an overall improvement in health, show better heart function and, in many cases, patients report owing their life to this miracle drug.
However, it may well be that the most benefit to patients comes from the lifestyle changes implemented simultaneously. There is also some suggestion that the procedure has a placebo effect, particularly in the US where it is not generally covered by medical insurance and costs in the region of $5000.
Until recently studies and research into the benefits of chelation therapy in the treatment of heart disease have been confined to small numbers of volunteers – too small in fact to produce any conclusive scientific evidence. Indeed, one study in 1960 involving only 30 volunteers was abandoned when two of the patients died and there were no recognisable benefits in the remaining subjects.
A 2002 double blind study involving 84 coronary heart patients, concluded, after 27 weeks that there was no discernible improvement in patients receiving the chelation therapy compared with those in the control group.
Current research involving 2372 volunteers with coronary heart disease, over a fifty year period, is likely to produce conclusive evidence of the benefits, or otherwise, of chelation therapy.
Risks and side effects
This type of therapy is known to have side effects – some of them severe. Side effects include –
- Kidney failure, leaving a patient requiring life-long dialysis or even a transplant.
- Reduced levels of bone marrow
- Low blood pressure
- Respiratory arrest
- Allergic reaction
The American Heart Foundation opposes the use of chelation therapy as an effective method of dealing with cardiac disease because of the lack of scientific evidence for its effectiveness and due to the unsafe and risky nature of the procedure.
Allegations that this opposition is connected to the income of heart specialists clearly has no foundation since, if the therapy were recognised as being beneficial, many more patients could be treated than can receive surgery – which would mean an overall increase in the income for heart specialists.
Since conclusive evidence exists that lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, eating a healthy, well balanced diet and increase levels of exercise, are all beneficial to heart health and no such evidence exists for chelation therapy it does seem that patients would be better benefited by paying for gym membership rather than this procedure.