Heart Disease: Is ‘Fringe’ Treatment Worth It? New Study Involving Criminal Doctors And Federal Probes Spurs Debate

By Amir Khan on November 5, 2012 12:59 PM EST

Heart Disease
Heart disease treatment once considered to be "fringe" medicine may have real benefits after all, according to a new study. The results have spurred debates as to whether the treatment should be used in heart disease patients. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Heart disease treatment once considered to be "fringe" medicine may have real benefits after all, according to a new study. The results have spurred debates as to whether the treatment should be used in heart disease patients.

The study looked into a process known as "chelation," in which the heart is periodically infused with intravenous fluids which proponents say can remove calcium from hardened hearts and arteries. The process has long been used to treat lead poisoning, but its usefulness in treating heart disease is unproven.

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For heart disease, chelation uses a drug that is not yet approved in the United States, but alternative-medicine practitioners have been ordering it from certain pharmacies, such as the one currently involved in the widespread meningitis outbreak, and using it to treat heart disease.

The study looking into the chemical's use to treat heart disease took 10 years, cost $30 million, and involved several doctors that have been convicted of felonies. The study also launched a federal probe into patient safety.

However, the study authors, who admit that more research needs to be done before the process can be widely used, spoke at an American Heart Association conference about chelation's use in treating heart disease. They said that in a study of 1,708 heart attack survivors, chelation led to fewer complications, such as repeat heart attacks and deaths.

Four years after treatment, 26.5 percent of the chelation group suffered one of those problems, compared to 30 percent of the placebo group. However, 17 percent of participants dropped out before the study ended, and only 65 percent completed all 40 chelation treatments they were supposed to get.

"The study in my view is inconclusive," Dr. Steven Nissen, cardiovascular chief at the Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved in the study, said, according to Fox News.    "Chelation has been practiced by physicians on the extreme fringes of medicine [and many involved in the study offer] a variety of other quack therapies. I'm really worried about harm coming to the public. Patients should not seek this therapy on the basis of this trial."

Dr. Clyde Yancy, a Northwestern University cardiologist and a former Heart Association president, told Fox News he was concerned over the number of people who dropped out.

"It's funny business," he said. "I've never seen a study in which one in five people withdrew consent."

But study author Dr. Gervasio Lamas, of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, said the study wasn't meant to be conclusive, and said there is still more work that needs to be done.

"The trial needs to be taken for what it is - a step towards future investigation." 

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