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Doctors Despise EDTA Chelation But Science Supports Its Use

Many MDs embrace data from drug trials but reject data from a government-supervised clinical trial of EDTA chelation. Check out the evidence for yourself.
Doctors Despise EDTA Chelation But Science Supports Its Use
Hospital patient emergency room

Q. Are you familiar with EDTA (ethylene diamine tetra acetic acid)? My newspaper has a large ad today on this for artery cleaning.

It sounds too good to be true…and I know the rest of that sentence. What is your opinion, please?

A. When we first heard about EDTA chelation therapy more than three decades ago we were as skeptical as you. It just sounded too good to be true.

EDTA Is An Antidote to Lead Poisoning:

Chelation (removing heavy metals from the body) with EDTA is a standard treatment for lead poisoning. Doctors do not dispute this approved use.

For decades, some proponents have claimed that chelation would also be beneficial in fighting atherosclerosis and reducing plaque, but cardiologists were quite skeptical. Some have gone so far as to call EDTA chelation therapy quackery when it is employed for treating coronary or peripheral artery disease.

Physicians who employed EDTA in their practices told us that this approach frequently eased symptoms of angina in heart patients. They insisted that some people did not require bypass surgery after EDTA chelation because their vascular symptoms improved so dramatically.

In those days there were no double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to support their assertions. Because the EDTA was administered intravenously, we assumed that there would be a substantial placebo effect. As a result we remained agnostic until solid scientific research could be completed.

We were also put off by the high cost of EDTA chelation. The material itself is inexpensive. We couldn’t understand why doctors were charging so much to drip an intravenous solution of EDTA into someone’s vein, especially if there was no solid scientific support for such therapy.

TACT Changes the Game:

Then the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine organized a controlled trial of EDTA chelation. Over 1700 patients who had experienced a heart attack were recruited. This taxpayer-funded clinical trial involved 30 weekly intravenous infusions followed by 10 maintenance infusions every two to eight weeks for a total of 40 infusions. People received either placebo infusions or EDTA.

This treatment was found to reduce a person’s chance of suffering a second heart attack or stroke or undergoing a repeat cardiac procedure (JAMA, March 27, 2013).

This study was dubbed TACTTrial to Assess Chelation Therapy. Further analysis has shown that people with diabetes got the greatest benefit, particularly if they were also taking a high-dose vitamin and mineral supplement regimen (American Heart Journal, July, 2014). For these people, treatment reduced their subsequent risk by about half.

The investigators concluded:

“In stable post-MI [heart attack] patients on evidence-based medical therapy, the combination of oral high-dose vitamins and chelation therapy compared with double placebo reduced clinically important cardiovascular events to an extent that was both statistically significant and of potential clinical relevance.”

As you no doubt noticed, this is not exactly an enthusiastic send off. On the other hand, it is cautiously optimistic.

Cardiologists Still Skeptical:

Such results are actually quite impressive. In fact EDTA chelation was better than statin-type medicines in preventing a second heart attack. Doctors use something called the Number Needed to Treat or NNT to evaluate drug effectiveness. In other words, how many people need to take a medicine to prevent one bad outcome such as a heart attack? The lower the NNT the more effective the drug.

In this study, you would have needed to treat 12 people with EDTA chelation to prevent one heart attack after five years. The authors state: “This compares with the 5-year NNT of 16 for statin therapy for secondary prevention.” Put another way, EDTA chelation outperformed statins because fewer people needed to receive treatment to achieve a desirable outcome.

If a new medication were developed by a pharmaceutical company that could reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke, especially in high-risk populations (like those with diabetes), the cardiology community would be jumping for joy. We would likely see commercials on television to “ask your doctor if EDTA chelation therapy is right for you.”

But EDTA is not a new drug. It has been used in medicine since the 1950s to treat both mercury and lead poisoning. That’s why the cost of the “drug” is actually very low. It is no longer under patent. But treatment in a clinic can be pricey. One infusion can cost over $100 and some clinicians recommend up to 30 infusions over 12 to 16 weeks for a total cost of several thousands of dollars that insurance may not cover.

How Safe is EDTA Chelation Therapy?

Mainstream medicine has been quite concerned about safety of EDTA chelation. Cardiologists have warned about kidney damage, low blood pressure and low calcium levels.

Interestingly, in the TACT study, the number of serious adverse events were identical in the EDTA chelation and high dose vitamin group to the placebo infusion and placebo vitamin group (13% in both). If this were a drug trial, the investigators would conclude that the medicine didn’t cause any more side effects than placebo and was therefore safe.

Reader Responses:

Visitors to this website have offered some interesting insights on EDTA chelation therapy. You can read other articles and reader comments at these links:

EDTA Chelation Therapy: Exonerated if not Celebrated

EDTA Chelation Effectiveness Challenges Doubting Cardiologists

Here are some unscientific stories from visitors to this site:

Dan shares this experience:

“In 1986 I had non-invasive diagnostic procedures that established significant artery blockage in both my legs. My kidneys were functioning at less than 50% to remove creatinine.

“I had 24 treatments of EDTA with lab urine tests every five treatments. After 24 treatments my indicators had improved enough to stop the treatments. I sat in a room with 20 other patients for the 4-hour IV drip. Next to me was a doctor (M.D.) and 2 or 3 others who had been sent home to die.

“The EDTA began to do amazing things for the other patients. In my mind, EDTA may have saved my life even as it did for several others in the treatment room with whom I associated on a weekly basis. I am now 78 years old and I have no return of the symptoms I previously experienced. I am pretty much a vegetarian now, including the avoidance of dairy products, and I work a good bit at gardening and outside yard work. I should walk more, and drink more water.”

L.E. and her family:

“My husband and I plus my mother-she at age 80-started treatments.

“She was so confused in her mind she could not make reasonable sense talking. She took 10 treatments of chelation. She got full recovery of her thinking and could talk and answer anyone perfectly. She lived to be 93 and did not take more treatments, but kept her clearness of mind very well to her death.”

“My husband took 25 treatments. His mind also got better. His blood pressure got much lower for the rest of his life. He did take some treatments when he was in his early 70s, and it helped blood pressure and thinking.”

“I was not as bad as my mother or husband. It helped my thinking. I had some heart problems which it also helped. I am now 89 and doing very well – clear mind and my heart is not having failure or the routine old age effects. I know chelation did help me in many ways. I am not taking it and haven’t for the past 15 years.”

William offered this story:

“I had severe angina in 1999 and was to go for an angiogram procedure. I didn’t fancy this, as it was considered dangerous. I then heard of Chelation Therapy and even though it was expensive I decided to give it a try-two or three treatments a week for a month and then I tapered off to once a week and then to once a month.

“After about 20 treatments my angina was completely gone and I went back to an active life that included walking three rounds of golf a week. I have stayed active all these years and my angina never came back.”

We are the first to admit that these are anecdotes. Most physicians would discount such stories as meaningless, but coupled with data from the TACT trial, one must assume that some people do get benefit from EDTA chelation therapy.

Please share your own experience below and vote on this article at the top of the page.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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