Newly published research shows that chelation therapy combined with vitamins greatly reduces the risk for heart disease.
Chelation, a once-controversial alternative therapy, is gaining increased acceptance among mainstream doctors.
The new study, led by Gervasio A. Lamas, M.D., at the Columbia University Division of Cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, randomly assigned more than 1,700 heart attack survivors to receive 40 rounds of chelation therapy and oral vitamins or drug-free placebo infusions at 134 clinics in the U.S. and Canada over 4 ½ years.
Chelation and high-dose vitamins were found to reduce the risk of future cardiovascular problems by 26 percent, compared to those who received a placebo. In heart attack survivors with diabetes, the benefits of the combo therapy were even greater — a whopping 51 percent — according to the findings, published online in the American Heart Journal.
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The findings are based on a new analysis of the medical records of the 1,700 patients involved in the study. Last year, Dr. Lamas reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the patients in the study who received chelation therapy alone fared slightly better than those receiving a placebo.
But the latest findings showed that chelation, when combined with vitamins, had even greater benefits for heart attack patients, particularly those with diabetes, Dr. Lamas said.
Overall, the combined results suggest chelation therapy — commonly performed to remove lead and other toxic metals from the body — offers major benefits to heart patients on par with conventional treatments such as statins, aspirin, and other medications prescribed for cardiovascular disease, the researchers concluded.
Dr. Lamas said he has scheduled a meeting with the Food and Drug Administration in July to present his findings — a briefing he hopes will lead the agency to begin an expedited federal review of chelation therapy as an approved treatment for heart patients.
The Mount Sinai research is the latest, and largest, in a series of studies that have brought renewed interest in chelation for heart disease treatment. Although it is an accepted FDA-approved method for treating lead and toxic metal poisoning, chelation has been controversial as a therapy for heart patients, with some cardiologists dismissing it as quackery.
The therapy uses ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA), which binds to toxic metals and minerals in the bloodstream, allowing a patient to excrete them.
Chelation treatment was first used during World War I as an antidote against arsenic-based chemical weapons. Sailors who suffered from lead poisoning during World War II after being exposed to lead-based paints used on navy vessels were also treated with chelation.
In recent years, chelation has become popular with alternative doctors as a means of treating many conditions, including heart disease, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, macular degeneration, and autism. Some health experts believe heavy metal contamination causes or contributes to these conditions.
In the case of heart disease, chelation may help rid the body of mineral deposits that can lead to atherosclerosis, which causes coronary arteries to narrow, increasing heart attack risks.
Chelation is administered in different ways. For heart disease, it is done intravenously — in a process known as "infusion" — in which a needle is inserted in a patient's arm and a fluid containing EDTA drips into the vein over a three-and-a-half hour session. Two or three infusions are administered weekly and a course of therapy can include 30 sessions or more.
More than 110,000 Americans undergo the treatment each year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. It is expensive — $5,000 is the average cost — and it is not generally covered by insurance.
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