Chelation converts seek fewer limits
By WES ALLISON
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 19, 2000
TAMPA -- Some shuffled to the lectern, slowed by age or disease. Others strode, buoyed by health and righteous indignation. Some cried as they told their stories of lost lives found. But all made the same plea to the impassive Florida Board of Medicine committee:
Chelation works. Don't regulate it to death.
For three hours Friday, more than 40 patients and several doctors explained what they said were the wonders of chelation therapy in an attempt to ward off new state regulations.
Regardless of how rambling their messages were, each was cheered by a feisty, mostly elderly crowd of about 200. They came from around the state.
"It does work," said John Cornelius of Tampa, whose doctor gave him 30 days to live because of his bad heart before he started chelation in 1996. "I shouldn't be here, but I am here to tell you about it."
The board's Quality Assurance Committee held the hearing after some board members expressed concern that chelation was being improperly marketed as a cure-all for heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma and other illnesses, and that the practice had become a haven for unlicensed doctors.
A second hearing will be held in South Florida soon and the committee could offer recommendations to the full board as early as December.
Committee Chairman Gary Winchester said he was impressed by Friday's testimony, and he doesn't yet see the need for more regulation. State law already penalizes false advertising, and the board can discipline unqualified practitioners, he said.
"The testimony by the patients was quite compelling," said Winchester, a family practitioner from Tallahassee. "And the second thing, the physicians who spoke seemed to be willing to work with us."
But the two heart surgeons on the committee, Dr. Raghavendra Vijayanagar of Tampa and Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah of Fort Lauderdale, said they're not convinced the current rules go far enough.
Both say they've seen advertisements claiming chelation can make you feel young again, and the testimonials are worthless without clinical trials to back them up. There is no scientific evidence to show it's safe or effective, they added.
"I have to protect the public, and I have to look at science," Zachariah said. "I cannot just look at emotion. I like to make money. If it works, I would do it, too."
In chelation therapy, the patient is given an intravenous drip of a compound called EDTA and other chemicals that bind with heavy metals. It's been an accepted treatment for poisoning by lead and other heavy metals for decades, but doctors and the American Heart Association say there's no proof it helps cardiovascular diseases.
Members of Friends of Chelation and the Alliance for Medical Freedom, another pro-chelation group, say about 180 Florida doctors practice it.
Some speakers complained the medical establishment was dogging chelation to maintain its vice-grip on American health care, but most presented similar stories of salvation: My doctor discovered a badly clogged artery, or poor circulation, or a weak heart; he told me I may lose my leg, or need major surgery, or would simply die soon. But a friend or relative told me about chelation and, although I was hesitant at first, I finally tried it, and I felt great after just a few treatments.
Blood was circulating vigorously in their legs for the first time in years, patients said. Or they were free of all other medications. Or they could walk 5 miles a day, unwinded. Or they've been able to watch beloved grandchildren grow up. "My ankle looks like an ankle again instead of a tree stump!" exulted a real estate agent from Lutz.
Henry Ellis, 88, of Orlando shuffled slowly to the lectern, then fought back tears as he explained how chelation has added 10 years to his life, even after his doctor told him there was nothing he could do about his poor circulation, and he was bound to lose a leg.
"My skin began to turn to its natural color," he said. "Pretty soon, I said, well I feel like I can manage a car again, and I started driving . . . I have the body of a young man."
Dr. Jack E. Young, who performs chelation in Mount Dora, detailed his extensive medical experience for the board, and said his patients' success with chelation trumps the shortage of clinical evidence.
"If you listen to the tens of thousands of those testimonies and observations, that is proof," he said.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire