Q. Does chelation therapy work for heart disease? I have a friend who swears it will help him avoid having a second heart attack.
A. The benefits of chelation are unclear but the procedure has real risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over 100,000 Americans have used chelation in the past year (although not only for heart disease). The therapy involves intravenous infusions of a chemical called EDTA, which binds to minerals like calcium and removes them from the body. Proponents believe the chelation shrinks calcium-rich blockages, called plaques, found in the blood vessels of people with heart disease.
In several studies, chelation has shown no benefit for heart disease. However, chelation has known side effects, such as excessively low calcium levels, low blood pressure, and permanent kidney damage. Since chelation is not covered by most insurance plans, it is also expensive: Each treatment typically costs $75–$125, repeated up to dozens of times over several months. Currently, the American Heart Association recommends against chelation therapy for treating heart problems.
The results of a recent study, the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT), have added fuel to the fire of the chelation controversy. TACT was the largest chelation trial ever. The preliminary findings of TACT claimed that treatment reduced the risk of future heart disease, although the way the study was designed and carried out left room for skepticism about its findings.
Instead of chelation, consider the more proven ways to prevent second heart attacks. They include daily aspirin, lowering your “bad” cholesterol with a statin drug, and smoking cessation. Exercise and control of blood pressure with medications called ACE inhibitors also help. These treatments are the mainstay to prevent second heart attacks.
— William Kormos, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men’s Health Watch