Maybe you know someone who has suffered a heart attack. You're concerned about their well-being, particularly if they're diabetic or suffered a large heart attack. You want to make sure that absolutely everything that can help this loved one stay healthy and alive is discussed with their doctors. Odds are very high, however, that there's one promising therapy the doctor won't tell them about: chelation therapy.
Chelation therapy was designed decades ago to trap and remove serious environmental toxins like arsenic. While using it, some practitioners noted improvements in symptoms of heart disease, and chelation began to be used in some clinics for heart patients. (There's quite a large body of science that suggests “heavy metal” toxins like lead, mercury and arsenic can poison systems important to heart health, so even at the time, it made some sense.)
Physicians in traditional practices, however, viewed chelation therapy as quackery, since there truly was little science to support it. As a physician, I advised my patients to avoid it, since I couldn’t find much research to support its use.
Fast forward to the past two years. The National Institutes of Health agreed over a decade ago to provide $31 million to fund the "definitive trial" for chelation therapy. This trial was called the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT).
Over the course of about 10 years, more than 1,700 people who had suffered a heart attack received real chelation therapy, or sham IV therapies, planned once a week for 40 sessions. Despite the fact that not all patients finished the treatments, and enrollment was slow, the trial was completed and the results were presented for the first time in November 2012.
These results showed that chelation therapy modestly reduced the risk of bad cardiovascular outcomes, but though the study provided a platform for further research, researchers cautioned that the study wasn't conclusive enough to support routine use of the therapy after heart attack.
However, since the TACT trial, a number of additional papers have been published. Taken together, this body of research has identified that:
1. Overall, chelation therapy modestly reduced bad outcomes (hospitalization for chest pain, stroke, heart attack, and need for a stent) compared to the placebo group.
2. In patients with a prior heart attack and diabetes, chelation therapy reduced bad outcomes in the five years of follow-up by nearly 40%. Powerful therapy.
3. In patients with a large heart attack before chelation therapy, the treatment also reduced bad outcomes in follow-up by nearly 40%.
4. When chelation therapy was combined with high dose oral multivitamins, even more benefit was obtained with chelation therapy.
5. Adverse effects from chelation therapy were infrequent.
Imagine a new pill that reduced the risk of heart problems by 40% in large numbers of patients. Do you think it would generate billions of dollars in sales? By contrast, in the year and a half since the TACT trial published its results, the therapy has made no impact on the routine care of patients.
There are some challenges to the therapy: IV chelation therapy is more involved than taking a pill (there are oral agents that can be used but these weren’t studied in the TACT trial), and chelation therapy is not covered by insurance programs. But what does it say about a medical community that selectively uses some data to advance patient care and ignores other important breakthroughs?
In my practice I have identified physicians in my area who have trained in chelation therapy and have experience with heavy metal testing and treatment. I've referred patients to these colleagues to discuss a course of oral or IV chelation therapy. I also routinely prescribe oral agents like n-acetyl cysteine (NAC), organic cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, and infrared saunas to promote the detoxification of chemicals from the body. Avoiding exposures to heavy metals by not smoking, limiting fish consumption, and considering the removal of dental fillings made with mercury is key.
Raising awareness that another therapy, in addition to lifestyle changes, pills, bypass surgery and stents, exists to help benefit the well-being of heart patients is so important. I hope you will join me in spreading the word.