A therapy for eliminating toxic metals from the body is becoming increasingly popular as a tool to fight heart disease. In the US, the FDA has approved chelation (pronounced ‘key-LAY-shun’) therapy for treating lead poisoning and toxicity from other heavy metals, but it’s estimated that more than 100,000 adults receive the therapy each year as a form of complementary medicine.
Spurred on by the increased use of chelation therapy for treating heart disease, plus positive reports and small-scale case studies, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the US National Institutes of Health, decided to conduct a lengthy clinical trial to research the phenomenon on a large scale. The aim was to test the safety and effect of the disodium EDTA chelation agent in patients with cardiovascular disease. The positive results of the study, particularly among diabetic patients (where death rates were 43% lower in patients receiving chelation), led the NHLBI to fund a second long-term research project, which began in 2016.
To evaluate the usefulness of EDTA as an intravenous therapy, let’s examine how chelation helps in cases of coronary artery disease (CAD), what the research has shown, and what the treatment involves.
What is chelation therapy and EDTA?
The term chelation has its origins in the Greek word for ‘claw’, and means ‘to grab’. This aptly describes the process involved, since a chelation agent binds with heavy metals, creating a compound in your bloodstream that can leave your body through urination.
Chelation was developed during the Second World War to remove poison from dyes, but was later adapted for human use to extract toxic metals, for example in cases of chronic lead poisoning. It was during these treatments, in the 1950s, that doctors noticed an interesting side effect: patients felt a notable relief from angina pectoris. Some doctors started to use the treatment for patients with atherosclerotic peripheral vascular and coronary disease, and the benefits were reported in a few studies.
Initially it was thought chelation worked simply by removing calcium – a major component of artery-blocking plaque deposits – thus breaking up the plaque itself. Without its removal, the plaque would build up and harden, leading to atherosclerosis, which can cause cardiovascular disease and strokes. It is also thought the drop in calcium serum stimulates parathyroid activity, with the resulting hormone release mobilising calcium from the soft tissue deposits.
Over the years, scientists have put forward several more complex explanations of how chelation therapy helps in CAD cases, but there is no general consensus on which is the most important contributing factor. One notable theory focuses on chelation’s ability to reduce the activity of cell-damaging free radicals. In chelation therapy for CAD, a dose of a preparation called disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (na-EDTA) is distributed into your bloodstream through an intravenous (IV) line. This chelates, or eliminates, metals that are known to increase the risk of vascular disease through increasing free-radical activity. By reducing the amount of these heavy metals, for example, iron and copper, inflammation is reduced and, with it, the likelihood of the rupture of unstable plaque.
Similarly, one-time sceptic but now head of the most significant studies on the effects of chelation on CAD, Dr Tony Lamas thinks the benefits come from the fact that EDTA eliminates both lead and cadmium (a toxic metal found in mobile phones). Dr Lamas, who is also chief of Columbia University Division of Cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Florida, US, explains that cadmium and lead can damage the circulatory system in several ways. Examples include inactivating the body’s antioxidant defences and damaging the cells that line the blood vessels
Another important factor is that disodium EDTA lowers the level of calcium in your blood and so inhibits platelet aggregation and this anti-clotting effect has cardio-vascular benefits. In addition, there is the role played by antiatherosclerotic nitric oxide. EDTA not only helps increase nitric oxide by itself; it also removes the lead that inhibits its formation.
What does the research show?
As far back as 1956, a group of Detroit doctors was conducting a small study on people with heart disease. Of 20 patients, 19 experienced “unusual symptomatic relief” following chelation, and six showed improvements on their electrocardiograms. From these humble beginnings, further small case studies and reports followed, until the National Institutes of Health decided to conduct the first of two major studies into the effect of chelation on cardiovascular disease: Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT). The results were released in 2012 and the study found chelation was safe, and appeared to be effective.
All 1,708 patients in the trial had experienced a previous heart attack, 32% had diabetes, and the participants were followed for an average of 55 months. Overall, those receiving chelation had an 18% reduced risk of subsequent cardiac events such as heart attack, stroke, hospitalisation for angina, or coronary revascularisation. A cardiac event occurred in 26% of the chelation group and in 30% of the placebo group.
The results were particularly significant for diabetics. Among patients with diabetes, those receiving chelation had a lower risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, hospitalisation for angina, or coronary revascularisation. Events occurred in 25% of the patients with diabetes who received EDTA chelation and in 38% of those who received the placebo. Death from any cause was 43% lower in those patients with diabetes who received chelation.
How do I try it?
Before I recommend EDTA to my patients, I make a detailed study to ensure it is a suitable approach for their health issue. While EDTA is used in thousands of food products (it is in most canned foods) and its toxicity is known to be extremely low, it must be administered slowly and through IV, with calcium levels being monitored for safety.
At Novomed Integrative Medicine, we offer the Na-EDTA protocol. In the consultation, I will review the patient’s medical case history and my examination will include a comprehensive personal and family history detailing all aspects of previous health problems and current status. I will ask about diet, habits, emotional status, exercise, stress levels and symptoms. If the patient and I agree that chelation will be beneficial, we will begin the infusions as part of their treatment. Depending on their circumstances, patients will have between 10 and 30 weekly sessions, and their progress will be monitored using our ultra-fast CT scanner, which measures calcium deposits in the coronary arteries.