The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) has launched the PharmFree campaign which encourages doctors and med students to distance themselves from drug companies and their representatives by refusing gifts, support and promotional materials. In this way, so they claim, they intend to change the culture of medicine toward higher ethical standards, increased professionalism and evidence based medicine. I would applaud such lofty goals, but there’s a problem. The AMSA’s promotion of pseudoscience and unproven health methods belies its stated ideals and one has to wonder what the true agenda of the PharmFree campaign is. I recently posted an overview of this hypocrisy and today will focus on chelation therapy, just one of the questionable health claims promoted by AMSA.
Though chelation’s proponents claim its effectiveness against cardiovascular disease and a variety of other disorders there is no supporting evidence or rationale except for the treatment of heavy metal poisoning. The American College of Cardiology’s position statement recommends against chelation therapy for cardiovascular disease. The Federal Trade Commission charged one group with false advertising for its claims that chelation therapy was effective in treating atherosclerosis. Although a large scale NIH sponsored study of chelation is in progress, researchers have for decades been unable to demonstrate clinical effectiveness or physiologic rationale. The most recently published evidence regarding chelation therapy is a systematic review which failed to find evidence of effectiveness.
Chelation is promoted on page 20 of AMSA’s Complementary Therapies Primer. This is not a balanced critical view of the treatment. The second paragraph makes the baseless claim that it improves blood flow and is helpful in the treatment of gangrene and intermittent claudications. The article also claims chelation is helpful for memory loss, arthritis, scleroderma and lupus. It goes on to say that oral chelation with either EDTA or penicillamine is useful as a “preventative measure” and lowers cholesterol.
This is patently absurd and destroys the credibility of the PharmFree campaign. It is also irresponsible. The AMSA needs to do some housecleaning of its own before pointing fingers at doctors for associating with the pharmaceutical companies.