The Institute of Medicine recommended that there be a greater emphasis on prevention of illness and incorporation of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.... in 2001.
In 2007, 111,000 adults reported that they used chelation therapy in a National Health Interview Survey.
Alternative practitioners have been using chelation to prevent and treat atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease for over 50 years. Even so, this procedure has been considered a waste of time and money by most conventional physicians. It’s been a challenge for alternative physicians to publish studies, because they are busy taking care of their patients.
Finally, on November 4, 2012, at the annual American Heart Association meeting, Dr. Lamas announced results of a large, decade-long trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicating what many integrative physicians have already known for some time: chelation therapy is safe and it prevents recurrence of heart attacks. Period.
Unfortunately, the mainstream medical community continues to discount the study. Words conventional physicians have used to describe the study's results include "shocking," "baffling," and "unexpected."
And even with this new evidence available, these conventional physicians—particularly cardiologists—are reluctant to accept the fact that chelation is beneficial to heart patients. It seems the struggle to make this beneficial therapy more widespread continues. But, for now, those of us who understand the power of chelation therapy have new data on our side.
Before getting into the details of the medical research, it's good to review the basics of chelation therapy.
The "Claw" of Good Health
Chelation comes from the Greek word "chele," which means "claw." There are important chelated structures in nature. Chlorophyll in plants and hemoglobin in blood are the exact same molecules except for a central chelated mineral. Chlorophyll contains manganese and hemoglobin contains iron. Clearly, chelators have been around for a very long time.
In medicine, a chelating medication encircles a toxic metal in a tight "grasp." This process isolates the toxic metals and eliminates them through the kidneys.
The most common form of medication chelation therapy uses EDTA, Ethylene Diamine Tetra-acetic Acid, a chemical that binds and removes metals from the body. Specifically disodium EDTA combined with magnesium, vitamin C and other nutrients were employed in TACT and have been used by alternative physicians since the 1950’s for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
At this point, you may be wondering how a substance that encircles metals can help prevent heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, including stroke and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). The answer is in an understanding of cardiovascular disease.
One of the hallmarks of cardiovascular disease is the calcification of plaque in the arteries. It was originally thought that EDTA bound up this calcium, thus softening the calcified arteries and opening them up. This proved to be incorrect and has probably contributed to conventional cardiologists’ resistance to the acceptance of the utility of EDTA to treat and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Atherosclerosis results from injury to the lining of the arterial walls. In the body’s attempt to heal the damage it forms a fatty streak which may grow into a cholesterol plaque over years. Oxidized LDL, small particle LDL, triglycerides, fibrinogen, homocysteine, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and diabetes, cigarette smoke, low grade infections, toxic metals and other environmental toxins all damage the lining of the arteries and set one up for atherosclerotic disease later in life.
There are at least 4 mechanisms by which EDTA prevents and treats cardiovascular disease. First, it acts as a mild anticoagulant, or blood thinner, by blocking the effect of calcium in the clotting cascade and in platelet membrane receptors. Georgetown University professor Martin Rubin, PhD, discovered the effect of EDTA chelation on calcium metabolism in the 1940’s. He went on to develop it as an anticoagulant. Dr. Rubin's discoveries laid the groundwork for further investigation into the connection between chelation therapy and cardiovascular disease. Research continued throughout the 20th century with many positive results. EDTA is inside every purple top vial used to collect blood at the doctor’s office or lab.
Secondly, EDTA chelates lead and cadmium, both of which cause and accelerate atherosclerosis. Drs. Norman E. Clarke, Sr. and Albert Boyle separately published several articles in the 1950’s showing improvement in patients with heart disease who were being treated for lead poisoning. This first came to light during World War II. Many of the men who performed welding on battleships developed lead poisoning. (Many were also smokers which is the most common source of cadmium.) It was observed that those who were treated with chelation therapy for the recognized lead poisoning didn't get heart attacks later in life.
Third, it's believed that chelating medications have an anti-inflammatory effect on the arteries. We know that inflammation is the underlying mechanism that prematurely ages and damages arteries, so any anti-inflammatory agent will naturally help prevent further aging of the arteries.
All of these factors cut cardiovascular disease risk, but the benefits of EDTA chelation don't stop there. EDTA is believed to be a strong antioxidant which reduces free radicle activity on the body. It’s not known if this is due to the elimination of heavy metals that generate free radicles or the EDTA itself, or both.
However it works, observational data from integrative physicians over the last 50 years have confirmed what research has hinted at all along: chelation therapy can play a significant role in preventing and reducing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, the mainstream medical community has been hesitant to practice or endorse EDTA chelation for any purpose other than the treatment of acute heavy metal poisoning. That’s why the TACT study was so important.
The TACT Study
The trial that has been sending shockwaves through the medical community is the TACT (Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy) Study. It was sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, two institutes of the NIH. It is the first large-scale study designed to investigate the relationship between disodium EDTA chelation and the reduction of cardiovascular disease. In fact, this trial was over 20 times larger than any previous chelation study.
The trial was a double-blind and placebo-controlled study that evaluated 1,708 patients with history of a prior heart attack to see if EDTA chelation therapy would reduce all causes of death, prevent a second heart attack, prevent a stroke, reduce the need for revascularization (repeat surgery), and prevent hospitalization for angina.
And just what did the TACT Trial find? It found that EDTA was safe. There were no significant complications. The safety committee monitored the study participants very closely.
Secondly, it determined that EDTA worked. Chelation with disodium EDTA reduced the above complications by 18 percent in the general population of study participants, and in 39 percent of diabetic participants.
These findings are huge. It shows that EDTA chelation does get the kind of positive results that many of us were already aware of. And, it shows that measurable cardiovascular disease reduction can be achieved through much less expensive and invasive means than those of popular treatments like heart stents. In 2007 a study in NEJM showed cardiac artery stents in stable cardiac patients were no better than medication in reducing the risk of heart attacks or death. Add to that the fact that stents cost tens of thousands of dollars, even with insurance, and the devices seem even less desirable.
Despite the promising nature of the TACT Study results, most members of the mainstream medical community are still, inexplicably, dismissive of chelation.
Bruce Dooley, MD, an integrative physician in Palm Beach, Fla., recently addressed such reactions: "[An] arbitrary and capricious recommendation not to use EDTA chelation in clinical practice, promulgated by a panel of cardiologists vested in interventional methodologies (stents, bypass, pharmacology), smacks of turf protection. By broadcasting this directive, they have arguably blocked future medical insurance remuneration. This, of course, will deprive the vast majority of people from this inexpensive and safe modality ... It's now proven effective (especially in the diabetic cardiovascular sub-segment), and, possibly, it will save hundreds of millions of health care dollars that are sorely needed for our ailing health care system."
The outrage among those who recognize the importance of the trial is widespread. Study analyzer Mark Wendman said: "Given there were benefits to 18 percent of the general population and 39 percent of diabetics, the results from chelation therapy seem possibly astounding. [This is] an important scientific result, even if not yet generally accepted by the larger medical community. Innovation at times can be painful to some experts."
The TACT results likely represent the low end of real-world outcomes. Danish physicians, Hancke and Flytlie, published an article in 1993 showing that 58 of 65 patients on the waiting list for cardiac bypass and 24 of 27 peripheral vascular patients also on a surgical waiting list were able to cancel their surgeries after receiving EDTA chelation therapy.
Dr. Terry Chappell in Ohio, who was an investigator in TACT, has performed chelation for patients for over 30 years. He and seven colleagues published a study showing that patients with known vascular disease treated with chelation therapy had a much lower incidence of subsequent cardiac events, such as heart attacks and the need for surgery, than a comparable group of patients treated with conventional cardiac care.
Observational studies by other physicians who have performed chelation for years have shown equally high responses. Most patients who undergo the therapy have seen significant improvement in their symptoms. While angiograms show little change, exercise stress tests and exercise tolerance improve. These pioneering physicians have seen reduction in the instances of stroke and improvements in peripheral vascular disease also.
In addition to such favorable results, very few people develop complications from EDTA chelation. Opponents of chelation like to point to a handful of recorded complications and deaths related to the therapy, but in each instance, problems occurred because of improper administration. Those failures weren't the fault of the chelation drug; they were the fault of incorrect handling by untrained physicians. When EDTA chelation is administered by a physician who is certified by the American Board of Clinical Metal Toxicology, ABCMT, or the American College for the Advancement in Medicine, ACAM, complications are unlikely.
Despite resistance from the mainstream medical community, disodium EDTA chelation therapy continues to be offered by many integrative physicians. Not only is chelation recommended for those who've had previous heart attacks, but also for anyone who has been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or who is at risk for heart attack, stroke or PAD.
In particular, diabetic patients—even those who haven't been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease—should explore chelation therapy. Not only are diabetics at highest risk for developing cardiovascular disease, they're also the patient population which seems to benefit most from chelation therapy.
The beauty of EDTA chelation is that it stops the progression of disease throughout the body, whereas other solutions only address local causes. Take PAD, for example. A bypass will correct the obstruction in your right upper leg that’s causing pain in your calf when you walk. It will not fix the disease in the other leg, or your coronary arteries or your carotid arteries. Atherosclerosis attacks all the arteries in your body. Only life style changes and chelation treat all the arteries. Frequently, patients are able to reduce the number of heart medicines they take as their health improves.
And unlike bypasses, stents and other types of intervention, EDTA chelation is minimally invasive. In fact, periodic intravenous (IV) administration of the chelator is all you'll have to endure. Here's how it works:
- The night before your disodium EDTA chelation treatment, you'll take methionine, an amino acid supplement that will help mobilize any cadmium in your arteries.
- Two hours before your treatment, you will take glycine, an amino acid that mobilizes and helps you excrete aluminum.
- Once at your appointment, staff will start an IV that will deliver the chelating medication into your system. This process will take 1 ½ hours to 3 hours, so it's wise to bring something like a laptop, iPad or book to occupy your time during the treatment.
Chelation therapy is generally given on a weekly basis, which is the schedule the TACT Study adhered to, but occasionally treatments can be given twice weekly or every other week.
It will generally take about 16 to 18 treatments for a patient to start noticing a change in symptoms. However, optimal results generally require a minimum of 30 treatments, which is also the guideline that was followed by the TACT Trial. After a 30 week period, patients will generally continue seeing improvements for an additional 18 months. This is because chelation has reduced inflammation and toxicity to the extent that the body has a better capacity to heal.
After 30 treatments of chelation, the patient goes into a maintenance phase, receiving EDTA every 4 weeks. Patients who did the best in TACT continued these less frequent “maintenance” treatments for at least another 10 or more treatments.
Of course, the best results from disodium EDTA chelation are achieved when the therapy is combined with appropriate changes in lifestyle which include stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet, taking appropriate supplements, exercising regularly, achieving an optimal weight, stress management, and hormone optimization.
So what does the future hold for EDTA chelation treatment for cardiovascular disease? EDTA chelation is safe, it works, and it treats the entire body. For patients who seek out the therapy, the future is bright. And, eventually, continued scientific studies will present skeptics with evidence they can no longer dismiss.
If you'd like to review the history of EDTA chelation, visit http://chelation.me. Go to www.drvaughan.com to read this same article with hyperlinks to the articles sited.
Come hear a free talk and find out if you are a candidate for chelation for heart disease at Vaughan Integrative Medicine on Thursday February 14th at 6:00pm. Call Amie at 336.808.3627 x10 to make your reservation.
Next month read about a different kind of chelation for patients who are sick due to toxic metals. The protocols are different and the patients are different. Unfortunately we live in a polluted world and we are polluted too. Read “Get the Lead Out” next month in Natural Triad.
For information on how chelation therapy might benefit you, contact Vaughan Integrative Medicine at (336) 808-3627 to schedule a consultation.