Chelation therapy for atherosclerosis refers to the use of a chelating agent called ethylenediaminetetraacetate (EDTA) to remove calcium buildup in fatty plaques in the blood-vessel walls.
One theory suggests that removing calcium from the coronary arteries causes the plaques to break up, which may help ward off or reverse atherosclerosis. Another theory is that EDTA chelation therapy stimulates the release of a hormone that causes calcium removal from plaques or causes a lowering of cholesterol levels. A third theory suggests that chelation therapy reduces the damaging effects of oxygen on blood-vessel walls (called oxidative stress), which, in turn, reduces inflammation in the arteries and improves blood-vessel function.
Despite studies claiming benefit from this therapy, however, critical analysis by respected medical journals has not found convincing evidence that chelation therapy is an effective treatment for atherosclerosis.
A major flaw with studies claiming benefit from chelation therapy was the absence of suitable control groups (people who are like the treatment group in every way except that they did not receive the medication or therapy in question). Without a control group, you don't know if any improvement seen in the treatment group was due to the therapy, the doctor's reassuring manner, or just chance. Another flaw was that the studies were too small to detect benefit from the treatment.
There is also concern about the safety of chelation therapy. EDTA is excreted by the kidney, so it can be toxic to those with impaired kidney function. Chelation therapy might also cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, low blood-calcium levels, fever, vomiting, and a burning sensation where the EDTA is delivered into the veins.
Although good evidence in support of chelation therapy is lacking, that has not stopped some practitioners from recommending it nor has it prevented consumers from using it. In 2003, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute began the first large-scale clinical trial to determine the safety and efficacy of EDTA chelation therapy in people with coronary heart disease.
The Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT) is expected to enroll 1,950 heart-attack survivors in more than 100 research sites across the country to determine whether chelation therapy improves the rate of second heart attacks and is safe and effective. The study should conclude in 2010.
Proper diet and exercise will reduce your chance of needing urgent care for coronary heart disease. But if you should ever find yourself in that position, the information in this article will help you understand what you're about to undergo.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dr. Neil Stone is a professor of clinical medicine in cardiology at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University and a practicing internist-cardiologist-lipidologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He also serves as the Medical Director of the Vascular Center for the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. Dr. Stone was a member of the first and third National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panels and a past chairman of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee and Clinical Affairs Committee.
Adrienne Forman, M.S., R.D., is a consultant and freelance writer, specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the editor of Shape Up America! newsletter, an online publication, and a former contributing editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter for 14 years. Adrienne is a former Senior Nutritionist at Weight Watchers International, where she was instrumental in creating multiple weight-loss programs, including their popular Points® program.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.