I think of chelation therapy as sort of fringe-y, so I was surprised to hear today that the National Institutes of Health has studied it as a possible treatment for heart disease. Chelation generally involves receiving intravenous infusions of compounds that bind with harmful substances like heavy metals to help remove them from your body, and some have speculated that chelation can remove the fatty deposits that line the arteries of people with atherosclerosis.
Researchers did a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to see if there's any truth to the idea that chelation therapy can help the heart. More than 1700 people who'd previously had heart attacks received 40 IV infusions containing either the chelating agent disodium EDTA or a placebo. The results of the study were . . . inconclusive. The study subjects receiving chelation were slightly less likely to experience cardiovascular events (heart attacks, stroke, etc) than the control group (26% vs 30%). However, that's a tiny difference, and as the New York Times explains, it's possible that the control group did worse because the placebo they received contained small amounts of sugar that may have negatively impacted their blood sugar, or that the chelation group did better because of vitamin C and blood thinners that were also administered through their IVs, and not because of the chelating agents.
So if you've suffered a heart attack or have been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, this isn't news you can use: don't go searching for a chelation therapist at this point. This is how the lead study author, Gervasio A. Lamas, M.D., chief of Columbia University Division of Cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, cautiously summed up the results of the research in a statement:
We have to look carefully at these unexpected results. Although not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating heart disease, chelation therapy has been used for over 50 years and has generally been believed by conventional medical practitioners and cardiologists to be without value. A definitive answer on chelation therapy will take much additional research. The most exciting part of this study is that there may be an unexpected signal of benefit. We need to understand whether the signal is true, or whether it occurred by chance."
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