Chelation Latest Therapy Proven Ineffective for Heart Disease
March 21, 2001 (Orlando, Fla.) -- Treating the chest pain caused by heart disease with chelation therapy -- a popular alternative medicine therapy that claims to remove supposedly harmful metals from the blood -- is no better than treating it with sugar pills.
Although it isn't clear how many people are opting for the therapy, it is estimated that people are spending millions of dollars a year out of their own pockets (most insurers don't cover it) to receive chelation therapy to reverse atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, or to treat chest pain related to heart disease. Until now, the treatment has never undergone the rigorous testing that scientists believe is needed to determine a therapy's benefit.
"[T]he theory is that the treatment removes excess iron [from the blood], which some people believe is harmful in cardiovascular disease," the study's lead author, D. George Wyse, MD, tells WebMD. Wyse is a professor of cardiology and of pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of Calgary in Alberta. Some people also theorize that the therapy removes calcium and other potentially harmful toxins from the blood.
Chelation therapy, in which the agent ethylenediamenetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is injected into the veins, is commonly used to treat poisonings with heavy metals, such as mercury. Each session of administering the EDTA usually takes between 3 and 4 hours. In most cases, between 20 and 50 treatments are given.
In this study, scientists randomly assigned 84 people who had been diagnosed with heart disease to receive either chelation therapy or placebo therapy twice a week for 15 weeks and then monthly treatments for three more months.
After six months, all participants were asked to fill out questionnaires about chest pain and fatigue.
They also received treadmill stress tests before and after the therapy to see if chelation improved the length of time the participants could walk before experiencing chest pain. It didn't. The bottom line, says Wyse, is that "there was no difference between the placebo and active treatment [study groups]."
Rose Marie Robertson, MD, president of the American Heart Association (AHA), says this is good news for people trying to determine whether to try chelation therapy. "Now we can tell our patients that based on the evidence we have so far -- good, scientific evidence -- this doesn't work," she says. Robertson tells WebMD that the chelation issue strikes close to home for her because a relative recently sent her some articles about chelation for heart disease. "This relative had a friend who wanted to try this. So I was asked for an opinion," she says. When she reviewed the articles, she found a lot of testimonials about how the "treatment works and works fast for relieving chest pain or angina," but no hard scientific facts.