Monday, June 19, 2006

Radagast meets a fan of chelation therapy

My SO and I went to donate blood today, and were pleased to see that our regular donation center was packed with people (a contrast to some of our prior experiences).

After donating, I sat down to enjoy the free juice and cookies (the real reason to donate blood). At the same table were a number of other people, one of whom was an older man chatting with a fellow donor about their health problems (see, even people with some health problems can donate blood). Within a minute or two of my sitting down, however, the gentleman started talking about his latest miracle cure: chelation therapy with EDTA. To listen to him talk about it, chelation therapy cured just about all ills known to mankind. He spouted off a bunch of "information" about it, which I'll share here:
  • By undergoing regular chelation therapy his cholesterol had dropped from near 300 to the mid 100s.
  • He had a "scan" of his carotid arteries done before beginning chelation therapy, and after only a few weeks of the therapy he went in for another scan. The results? He now had 25% more blood flowing to his brain.
  • It removes plaque from arteries.
  • It works like a roto-rooter, and cleans out your plumbing.
  • Thanks to chelation therapy, he'll "never have to see a cardiologist again."
  • Even though it's expensive, it's preventive maintenance, which we all know is something we should do.
The woman he was talking to said that she'd ask her doctor about the therapy. He replied that "Oh, your doctor will say it's worthless, but don't trust him," and proceeded into a discussion rant about how the AMA and doctors were hiding the truth about chelation therapy because "if everyone knew about chelation therapy, the doctors would go out of business. It's all about the money."

And it was, indeed, all about the money. He reported that when he first started treatment he had to go in for 32 chelation treatments in a 16-week period, and then had to have at least 12 treatments a year for maintenance. The total cost? $100 per treatment (that's $3,200 in the first four months, then $1,200 every year after that).

The woman then asked him how chelation therapy worked. About all he could explain was that some kids were dying in the 1920's and that the doctors couldn't figure out why, except that the kids were eating lead. Then the doctors tried this therapy, and the kids survived. Oh, and it clears out your arteries.

An excellent explanation, indeed.

For those who don't know, chelation therapy has exactly one proven medical application: treatment of heavy metal (e.g., mercury, lead, arsenic) poisoning. The idea is to intravenously inject a chemical (e.g., DMSA) that binds to heavy metals so that they can be excreted by the kidneys. Chelation therapy does nothing for any cardiovascular condition, autism, aches and pains, or anything else an altie might suggest it to you for.

Thankfully, Orac has already written an excellent (and detailed) debunking of chelation therapy's use for treating atherosclerotic vascular disease (and other conditions, including autism), and Quackwatch has two good pieces debunking its use in alternative medicine. Go read those articles if you want to learn more.

Thanks to reading Orac's posts in the past, I could hardly stand to listen to this guy talk, and was worried that he might be convincing the woman to try chelation therapy. I left at the same time as the woman, and so was able to share my (more skeptical, and more evidence-based) viewpoint on chelation therapy with her on the way to the parking lot. Thankfully, it turned out that she hadn't bought a word of what he was saying, and was just being polite in listening to him. Or at least that's what she told me. I tried.

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