This is the second of two posts about a study of whether chelation therapy might benefit some patients who have suffered a heart attack. In the first post, I gave health reporters high marks for their coverage.
Early in my career, I covered a story on chelation therapy. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the alternative treatment. I was a broadcast producer, and we needed video, so we visited a chelation clinic. Looking back, I can’t recall what our story was about, but I do remember what it was like to talk to the patients as they sat in recliners that lined the walls of the narrow storefront.
They were all hooked up to IV bags filled with a vivid yellow liquid that was a mixture of B-vitamins and the chemical EDTA that they believed was flushing heavy metals, minerals, and toxins from their bodies.
Many spoke of chelation with fervor. One man, a diabetic, credited the regular three-hour infusions with saving his legs, which were riddled with sores.
Chelation has been around for decades. It is accepted treatment for lead poisoning and other kinds of heavy metal toxicity. But alternative practitioners have greatly expanded its use, with claims that it can treat myriad ills, everything from autism to Alzheimer’s to problems caused by metal hip implants. There’s almost no scientific evidence to back up these claims.
It was against this backdrop – lots of claims, enthusiastic patients, evangelistic providers – that the NIH set out to test the practice.
The Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy, or TACT, has again ignited a heated debate among doctors.
Here’s another voice to add to the discussion. He is lead study author Gervasio A. Lamas, M.D., chairman of medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla., and professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Division of Cardiology. I asked him to talk about the process of publishing TACT and asked him to respond to a few of the main criticisms of the trial. These are lightly edited questions and answers from our interview: Continue reading