Nov. 4, 2012 at 10:42 PM ET
If you suffer from heart disease, or have had a heart attack and are therefore at risk of dying from another -- what should you do to reduce your risk? An expensive study sought to find an easy fix, but the large trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health shows that chelation therapy, a controversial alternative medicine therapy that removes heavy metals from the bloodstream, does little good. So what might help these heart patients instead?
The old reliable standbys are losing weight, stopping smoking and exercising more. These, of course, are dull and hard to do, and they surely don’t create sexy headlines.
Moreover, they don’t make anyone any money in advocating for them. There are many industries that have a powerful stake in your not doing them, and in advertising round the clock to dupe you into yet another day lounging in front of the TV, scarfing down a second triple cheeseburger or guzzling a big gulp sugary soda. Ignore those messages. Losing weight, keeping away from cigarettes and staying fit are the proven ways to reduce risk.
Chelation, on the other hand, sounds seductively simpler by comparison. A doctor gives you ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid via IV. This chemical is widely used to dissolve limescale, the chalky deposit found in kettles, hot water boilers and pipes. That is the extent to which the chemical is proven to do any good. There is no scientific reason to explain why something that can dissolve granular, sand-like deposits in your water heater should be capable of clearing out clogged vessels in a heart.
Still, the dream of finding a simple fix to a terrible health problem and the agitation by a powerful alternative medicine lobby led the NIH to invest 30 million dollars in a study of chelation. There has never been any evidence that chelation worked to fix heart problems, autism or the many other ailments that its tout. The study results are now out and show a tiny, marginal impact on the health of those who took the treatment.
Does that mean that if you have heart disease you should head to the local chelation center? No. Continue to take your same old heart medications. The results of this new trial are so weak, and the issues surrounding how the trial got done so bothersome that it would not be smart to put your aililng heart in the hands of someone giving something that is still very dubious.
If you suffer from heart disease, it is up to you to take the hard, challenging but proven road: change your lifestyle.
Copyright 2013 Thomson Reuters.