Can chelation therapy treat heart disease?
Answer From Rekha Mankad, M.D.
It's unclear whether chelation therapy can treat heart disease.
Chelation therapy has long been used as a treatment for mercury and lead poisoning, but it isn't a proven treatment for heart disease. It can potentially cause serious side effects when used as a heart disease treatment. Even so, some doctors and complementary health practitioners have used chelation therapy to treat heart disease and stroke.
In chelation therapy, you are given disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) through a series of weekly intravenous (IV) treatments, each lasting about 30 minutes.
In general, the medication seeks out and sticks to metals and minerals in your bloodstream, creating a compound that your body removes when you urinate. Chelation therapy is promoted as a treatment for heart disease because it's thought that the medicine sticks to calcium found in fatty deposits (plaques) in the arteries.
However, chelation therapy for heart disease remains controversial. Here's what we know so far:
- The Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT) didn't provide enough evidence to support routine use for heart disease. But it did find that chelation therapy offered moderate protection against future cardiovascular events, such as strokes and heart attacks, in those with diabetes. TACT2 will focus specifically on people with diabetes.
- The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology say it's uncertain whether chelation therapy is helpful as a treatment for heart disease.
- The Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved chelation therapy for use as a heart disease treatment.
Chelation therapy for heart disease has known risks and side effects. The most common is burning at the IV site. Other side effects include fever, headache, nausea or vomiting.
Rare but serious complications of chelation therapy for heart disease that have been reported include:
- Abnormally low blood-calcium levels (hypocalcemia)
- Sudden drop in blood pressure
- Drop in bone marrow counts (bone marrow suppression)
- Heart failure
- Kidney damage
Before trying chelation therapy as a heart disease treatment, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks.
Aug. 21, 2019
See more Expert Answers
- Questions and answers: The NIH trial of EDTA chelation therapy for coronary heart disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/press-releases/supplement/questions-and-answers-the-nih-trial-of-edta-chelation-therapy-for-coronary-heart-disease. Accessed July 15, 2019.
- Chelation for coronary heart disease. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/chelation. Accessed July 15, 2019.
- Sultan S, et al. Chelation therapy in cardiovascular disease: An update. Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology. 2017;10:843.
- Fihn SD, et al. 2014 ACC/AHA/AATS/PCNA/SCAI/STS focused update of the guideline for the diagnosis and management of patients with stable ischemic heart disease: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines, and the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and Society of Thoracic Surgeons. The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. 2015;149:e5.
- Ujeta F, et al. The effect of EDTA-based chelation on patients with diabetes and peripheral artery disease in the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT). Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications. 2019;33:490.