Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Is chelation therapy an effective way to stave off heart disease?

Q. I have heard that something called chelation therapy can help protect against heart disease. Can you tell me about that?

A. Chelation (pronounced keel-A-shun) therapy uses chemicals that attach to metals deposited in body tissue to pull the metals out of the tissue and into the blood. Then the metals get eliminated in your urine. Chelation therapy is a successful treatment for lead poisoning, for example. But you may wonder what that has to do with heart disease.

In the most common form of heart disease, plaques of atherosclerosis build up in the arteries of the heart. Calcium is deposited in those plaques. In the 1950s, some doctors speculated that chelation therapy would pull the calcium out of the plaques and thereby stifle their growth—and the heart problems they caused. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have received chelation therapy, even though there has been no convincing evidence of its benefit. There also have been reports of serious adverse reactions to the treatment, including death. For that reason, most doctors—myself included—have been very dubious about chelation therapy for heart disease.

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