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Heart Disease Health Center

Experts: Chelation Therapy Not Ready for Prime Time

New study shows slight effect, but arduous 'leaching' treatment has side effects, doctors say
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In the new analysis of the data, the patients were divided into two groups: high-dose vitamin/mineral supplements plus chelation or "dummy" placebo infusions/supplements. Chelation therapy consisted of 40 three-hour sessions with the IV infusions spread over anywhere between 50 and 110 weeks. Doses of vitamins and minerals given were much higher than recommended daily intakes.

After an average follow-up of more than four and a half years, the team did see a slight benefit among the group who took the vitamins/minerals in combination with chelation therapy. Twenty-six percent of people in this group experienced some kind of cardiovascular event such as heart attack, stroke or hospitalization for angina (chest pain) -- less than the 30 percent seen among those who got placebo/placebo therapy only.

Still, the gap was not huge and Lamas, who does not use chelation therapy in his own practice, said he cannot recommend it at this time. The researchers also noted that the drop-out rate among participants was relatively high: 281 people in the placebo arm stopped treatment before the study's end, as did 233 of those taking chelation.

"The message really is a cautious message," Lamas said. "We brought something that has been an alternative medicine treatment into the realm of scientific inquiry and found unexpected results that may merit future research. However, we don't think that the results of any single trial are enough to carry this novel hypothesis into daily use for patients."

In an editorial published in JAMA, the journal's editor-in-chief, Dr. Howard Bauchner said that "based on full consideration of the strengths and limitations of [this study], the conclusion is clear and should influence practice -- these findings do not support the routine use of chelation therapy as secondary prevention for patients with previous [heart attack] and established coronary disease."

But Green said the debate over chelation's effectiveness may continue.

"The use of chelation therapy for coronary artery disease has had its advocates for decades, but predominantly outside of regular medical circles," Green noted. "This is because there has not been what was considered a good hypothesis to explain why it should work for coronary atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries]."

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