You probably won't find chelation therapy being offered at your average doctor's office. But it's a big part of alternative medical practices. It's most commonly used to treat heavy-metal poisoning. A new review looked at whether or not chelation therapy could be useful to treat heart disease.
Chelation therapy involves multiple infusions that use a combination of vitamins and chemicals, including EDTA, which acts as a binding agent.
"The theory is that it prevents another plaque from forming and then blocking an artery by leaching out some of the minerals in there," said Dr. Daniel Eisenberg, Foothill Cardiology.
The infusion also contains a large amount of vitamin C.
"Vitamin C is an antioxidant. It keeps different important molecules in the body potentially from being damaged," said Dr. Gervasio Lamas, Mt. Sinai Medical Center.
Dr. Lamas and his co-authors studied the effects of chelation therapy on cardiovascular health.
In a National Institutes of Health study, researchers followed more than 1,700 patients, all over the age of 50. Most of them were overweight and had a prior history of heart attack. Some were given 40 infusions of chelation therapy. The others were given a placebo.
The results? Researchers found chelation therapy seemed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events over four years.
But the difference between chelation and the placebo was modest.
"In the placebo group 30 percent of patients had one of these cardiovascular events that included death, heart attack, revascularization, stroke or hospitalization for angina or chest pains," said Dr. Lamas. "Twenty-six percent of the chelation group had an event."
Dr. Eisenberg notes that cost is another factor to take under consideration.
"The cost of chelation is extraordinarily expensive," said Dr. Eisenberg. "Over a year it can be upwards of 10-, 20-, $30,000."
The authors say that given a lack of significant benefit and potential side effects, they don't recommend routine use of chelation therapy for heart patients. However, they think more research should be done.