DEAR DR. BLONZ: There is a chelation dietary supplement product that I am interested in to help lower my risk of heart disease. I now take a statin for this same purpose. Is oral chelation effective? And if so, how long do you have to take the supplements? -- S.F., Las Vegas
DEAR S.F.: Chelation is indeed a therapeutic technique that has been investigated for heart disease, but that research involves an intravenous (IV) infusion -- not a dietary supplement. (More on that later.)
The concept of chelation relates to the ability of a substance to bind, or chelate (KEY-layt), other compounds and stop them from reacting or causing harm. One main substance used is EDTA, short for ethylenediaminetetra-acetic acid. This is the same substance in the lavender-topped test tubes used when you go in for a complete blood count: The EDTA in those tubes chelates the iron in your blood and prevents it from clotting.
EDTA is very poorly absorbed when taken by mouth. After you swallow it, the EDTA has no choice but to travel the entire length of the digestive tract, its binding ability intact. There have been medical uses of oral EDTA to bind toxic intakes of unwanted heavy metals, such as mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium or iron, that were inadvertently consumed. In such cases, it must be noted that the EDTA can also bind essential minerals, such as calcium and manganese, and escort them out of the body before they might be absorbed. There is no way to “direct” the EDTA to grab only toxins or certain unwanted substances. Therefore, oral EDTA should be limited to specific uses under medical direction.
The administration of EDTA directly into the bloodstream via an IV bypasses the poor-absorption issue. Intravenous chelation therapy has legitimate uses in systemic heavy metal poisoning, metabolic conditions where minerals accumulate, or diseases where access to certain minerals is key to the progress of the disease.
Your question, however, relates to oral chelation for heart disease. I was unable to find any competent and reliable evidence to support the safety and efficacy of oral chelation therapy for heart disease. As I mentioned above, there was a study looking at this issue: The National Institutes of Health helped fund a major clinical trial using an IV infusion of EDTA to determine if it might have some application to heart disease.
Referred to as TACT (Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy), the study did report a beneficial effect, but only for patients with diabetes. I want to point out, again, that this is EDTA given in an IV, not taken orally. You can read more about this use of chelation at nccih.nih.gov/health/chelation.
At the bottom of that page is a link regarding the FDA’s issuance of warnings to marketers of over-the-counter oral chelation products, and the dangers and false claims associated with such products.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.