An increasing number of medically trained ‘integrative‘ doctors are targeting older patients with offers of chelation for improved blood circulation and for other illnesses.
Does this intervention reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease?
Chelation is the administration of chelating agents, including vitamin C, vitamin B complex, heparin, sodium, minerals, trace elements, man-made amino acids, such as ethylene diamine tetra acetate (EDTA), along with a local anaesthetic, usually via the veins, to bind heavy metals and calcium.
Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1991 as an intravenous therapy, chelation is the preferred medical treatment for reducing the toxic effects of heavy metals, such as in lead poisoning, by converting them to a chemically inert form which can be excreted in the urine.
Claiming it is of “great clinical value to patients with cardiovascular disease“, ‘integrative’ doctors are recommending chelation for patients with atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and for those with a family history of cardiovascular disease, but who have not yet developed symptoms.
Chelation is also recommended for anything from infertility to immune system disorders and for other problems allegedly due to reduced blood flow, such as vertigo, tinnitus and senility.
Practitioners claim that it improves blood flow and relieves symptoms associated with atherosclerosis “in more than 80% of patients treated“. It is also recommended for patients alleged to have high levels of lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic in their bodies, where the ‘diagnosis’ might be made using invalid pathology tests including hair tissue mineral analysis .
‘Integrative’ practitioners claim that chelation can restore circulation to the entire body by removing “calcium from artery plaques as well as remove toxic ions, reduce free radical damage“. They also claim that it can reverse atherosclerosis and that it is an “alternative to angioplasty and bypass surgery.” However, although EDTA chelation does reduce the amount of calcium in the blood, it does not remove it from arteries.
Chelation comes with risks. The dangerous side effects of intravenous chelation include convulsions due to a sudden drop in calcium levels in the blood, kidney damage caused by increased levels of metals in the urine, malaise, fatigue, excessive thirst, chills, fever, nausea, muscle aches, vomiting and headaches. Both oral and intravenous chelation can also suppress the ability of the immune system to combat infections.
Although they can be beneficial for people suffering from heavy metal poisoning, chelating agents can also be unsafe. Not covered by Medicare and costing over $5,000, intravenous chelation for cardiovascular disease, administered by nurses, takes 30 sessions of up to three hours’ duration. Some health funds partly reimburse the cost. An additional cost includes prescribed nutritional supplements.
Despite the hype, there is little evidence to support any claims relating to cardiovascular disease. The severe side-effects outweigh any possible benefits which are actually far more likely to be a placebo effect, and due to lifestyle changes such as good nutrition and exercise.