There’s something faintly ridiculous about sitting like a lemon for forty-five minutes while expensive vitamin-laced salt water is dripped into a vein in your arm.

Yet this is what will happen if you fall for the blandishments of clinics offering to boost your immune system, detoxify your body, and abolish all your unhappiness.

These claims, as I pointed out in my previous post, are exaggerated, unproven, or false. But could such IV (intravenous) infusions do you no good at all? They are certainly good for the profits of the outfits offering this pseudo-treatment, but for the individual on the receiving end it’s merely a costly way to fill your bladder since the excess fluid and dissolved ingredients will be excreted in the urine over the next few hours.

I did have some correspondence with the medical director of one of these clinics, and in addition to my request for the evidence supporting their claims, I asked the following questions:

If you don’t mind my asking, I should be interested to know whether you yourself have received any of your IV infusions. If so, which one(s), for what reason(s), and with what result(s)? And if you have not yourself received them, why not?

The answer was no reply. Or, to put it another way, the reply was no answer.

The false promise of preventive medicine
It’s not only the dubious benefits of IV fluids that these clinics peddle: they are also big on what they call preventive medicine. Here’s what one such doctor has to say about this interesting subject:

The core objective for this way of practising [preventive] medicine is to keep you healthy and limit the impact of disease throughout your life. Part of our strategy, for disease prevention, is to identify issues with the body early. This is why having your bloods taken regularly, throughout the year, offers effective health surveillance and allows our doctors to pick up any abnormalities early. Early intervention always corresponds to the best outcomes. Let us be proactive and not reactive where our health is concerned.

Let’s rewrite this in plain English and get rid of the unnecessary words:

The objective of preventive medicine is to keep people healthy or at least to mitigate the effects of disease. One way to do this is by regular blood tests to find out if any abnormalities are developing so we can take effective action. After all, prevention is better than cure!

The problem with this idea is that, with very few exceptions, it’s based on a false promise: that it’s possible in ostensibly healthy people to detect diseases before symptoms develop and then take effective preventive action.

If you have a family history of, say, diabetes, cancer, or heart disease, it may be sensible to be checked from time to time, since these disorders may have a genetic basis. But for healthy people with no relevant personal or family medical history, such check-ups are of very limited benefit. (One can make out a case, however, for occasional blood pressure checks and cervical smear tests in women of the appropriate age.)

Disadvantages of regular check-ups
There are two specific disadvantages of regular check-ups for healthy people.

First, they may produce a false sense of security: it’s possible to have an extensive check-up with all the results being normal—then step outside the clinic and drop dead from a heart attack.

Second, minor departures from the normal values of blood tests may be found (results outside the reference ranges). Examples are the levels of uric acid, thyroid hormones, liver enzymes, and cholesterol, but these are likely to be of little or no significance. In any case, for the vast majority, treatment based on such results is neither needed nor possible, but a likely consequence is repeat clinic visits and more testing. This can create unnecessary anxiety for the clients, not a few of whom may be turned into patients.

Disadvantages of genetic testing
These same clinics may also tout exciting sounding genetic tests. Such testing, however, is a quite different situation from investigating patients with inherited disorders. It’s more in the nature of a fishing expedition, but the results under these circumstances have not yet been properly evaluated and are of unknown significance. They may also have disadvantages, such as if the tests indicate, say, a higher than average risk of developing heart disease, one may have to disclose this when applying for life insurance, and of course one may well be made anxious by the results. And even if the results indicate no increased risk for the various diseases screened, again, it may induce a false sense of security since normal or negative results in no way guarantee reduced or no susceptibility to any disease.

Now let’s look at one clinic’s further claims about genetic testing:

…gives you the ability to immerse yourself into a healthier lifestyle. Find out the truths behind how your body works and what are the best (and worst) foods and micronutrients for you to enjoy the perfect balanced diet.

What do they mean, ‘Find out the truths behind how your body works’? Are they offering a crash course in anatomy and physiology? For the vast majority of people it’s pointless to have genetic tests to discover ‘the perfect balanced diet’ (the word ‘perfect’ is redundant) since these are of unproven benefit. For most people in the developed world, it suffices to eat a variety of fresh foods including fruit, vegetables, cereal grains, dairy products, eggs, and fish, with little or no red meat. An example is the Mediterranean diet, as it’s called, which anyone can look up.

Her true vocation!
And here’s part of an interview with a Manager of one of these IV drip outfits, called REVIV, which they lay out on their website. This good lady allows her name to be disclosed to the public: it’s Emma Sharp. She used to be a nurse working in the NHS, about which she has this to say:

It was frustrating. We’d see patients with long-term conditions come in and as much as I was trying to help them live better lives, unfortunately, the damage was already done. It was just too late to change their lives at this stage. For these patients, we’d focus on health promotion and prevention…all we could offer them was prescriptions to try and avoid exacerbations resulting in hospital admission. It was an upsetting experience…

I fail to see what Ms Sharp found frustrating and upsetting about focussing on health promotion and prevention and offering prescriptions when needed. As a qualified nurse, what nobler vocation could she have than to help heal the sick?

She continues, with my comments in square brackets:

When I found out about REVIV, I was thrilled. At last, a company passionate about health prevention [disease prevention, surely] rather than cure [what’s wrong with cure?]. My new career meant I could finally support patients [patients? – is she still attending sick people?] who wanted to protect their health [who doesn’t?] and make a difference in their lives. I love being able to ask patients: “What are your long-term goals?” “What are you aiming to achieve?” [What could these possibly be other than to live a long healthy life?] REVIV enables individuals to transform their lives to be happier and healthier [a miracle!] Genetics testing, bespoke IVs – these are the tools I can use to finally make a difference.

How to live a long healthy life
I mentioned it in my previous blog but it’s worth repeating, that insofar as it’s in our own hands to live a long healthy life, the advice is simple: don’t smoke, drink in moderation if at all, avoid being overweight, take regular exercise, and eat a healthy diet. Medical check-ups, blood tests, genetic testing, and intravenous infusions of salt water with added vitamins do very little or nothing for most people who want be and remain healthy.

Text © Gabriel Symonds