The Questionable Contents of IV Fluids

IV bagPart of Wooden Spoon Wellness’s “What’s In Your Food?” series

Intravenous fluids (fluids that are transferred directly into your veins, also called IV fluids) are used in a variety of medical situations. IV solutions are used in cases of dehydration, malnourishment or specific nutritional deficiencies. The contents of IV bags vary according to the condition being treated but most include as their base a saline solution, which is a mixture of salt water and other things that enables quick transport of liquids, nutrients, or medication directly into the bloodstream.

 

Just about every hospital and clinic in the world as well as some doctor offices use them. According to a 2015 article in Fortune magazine, “There are few drugs as useful and as widely used in healthcare as normal saline [salt water]… According to Baxter, one of the country’s leading producers of the solution, 740 units of normal saline and other sterile solutions are used each minute across the U.S. Baxter ships more than a million units per day.” It is so widely used in fact that there is currently a national shortage because the demand outweighs the supply. [1]

 

There is no question that many lives would be lost if it were not for IV fluids but their contents can sometimes have harmful effects. Closer inspection of some of the most frequently used IV fluids reveals that many of these commonly-used solutions contain dextrose. [2]

 

As I mentioned in, “Salt Packets,” my opening blog post in the “What’s In Your Food?” series, dextrose is a processed sugar derived from corn. It is very quickly absorbed into the bloodstream thus making it a helpful carrier for medication and nutrients. However, 89% of corn in the United States is genetically-engineered (GE) according to the United States Department of Agriculture. [3] It is therefore highly likely that the dextrose in IV fluids comes from genetically-engineered corn.
I could not find studies that assess the presence of GE cells in dextrose (please give a shout if you can!!) however studies abound that show the negative affects, such as cancer and birth defects, when GE food is consumed by humans. [4] It is important to note that many studies contradict the anti-GE movement and show that GE products do not have an effect on humans. These research labs are funded by big agricultural GE food producers however. It is in these labs’ interest to show that GE products are safe: the data they produce is financially motivated and highly suspect. I do not believe it is helpful to live from a place of sensationalism or fear but Simon Hogan, an independent researcher on GEs and an expert on the literature, finds enough evidence to give him pause. He states, “because you don’t know definitely what these [GE] proteins could do…that’s sufficient for me to say ‘halt’ until we know more.” [5]
It is difficult to conclude definitively that the inclusion of GE corn dextrose in IV bags has a significant negative affect on someone who needs these fluids, particularly if they receive an IV bag once (unless you have a corn allergy which is discussed below) but this becomes a bigger consideration for those who rely on IV fluids for longer periods of time– people who cannot consume food through their mouths, for example, or require monthly or weekly infusions of something-or-other where dextrose is used as a carrier for it. What impact does this have on them?
As mentioned above, it is important to consider as well that some people are allergic to corn and the body treats ingestion of corn as an invader, signaling stress responses. Allergic responses vary according to the person. Most people with corn allergies experience joint inflammation, digestion problems and/or skin eruptions. In her article, “Corn in My Veins: Dextrose in IV Solutions,” Dr. Pamela Reilly, for example, describes the severe joint pain, nausea, and congestion she experienced when dextrose-filled IV fluid was administered to her during an emergency situation. Reilly knew that she had a corn allergy and, once she realized that she had been exposed to corn through her IV bag, she was able to communicate the issue to her healthcare practitioner. More extreme and rare reactions include an inability to breathe, loss of consciousness, or a decreased heart rate. [6] 
Corn allergies can be difficult to diagnose according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and many people do not know that they have corn allergy. Writer Caitlin Shetterly, for example, visited multiple health practitioners for her intense nausea, bodily pain, and chronic exhaustion: “After I maxed out the available rheumatologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists, gastroenterologists, Lyme disease specialists, acupuncturists, and alternative-medicine practitioners in the Portland metropolitan area, I was sent to neurologists in Boston. All of my tests came back normal.” Shetterly finally saw an allergist specialist who suggested a possible allergy to corn. Corn allergy is currently not on the radar of most mainstream doctors, nurses, or EMTs. [7]

Some might read this blog and think: The jury is out on GE products. The allergic reactions to IV bags are rare and in most cases minor when, to put it simply, a corn derivative saved Dr. Reilly’s life. So how big of a deal is this really? Well, in my humble opinion, if we can avoid suffering of any kind, we should. In addition, I don’t believe that we have enough information to use products SO widely when there is a strong possibility that is harmful. GE corn is in our table salt, it is in our IV bags, it is many restaurant and prepared foods through corn oil, cornstarch, and corn syrup. 89% of corn in American is genetically-engineered. We are being exposed to it at astounding levels. I can do my best to avoid or limit GE foods until change happens but the issue becomes even more ethically challenging when it comes to medicine. I want to know if anything other than 100% nature-produced materials is being injected directly into my bloodstream. We have a right to know.
So what can be done? Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Research studies are needed to test GE levels in corn derivatives such as dextrose.
    Biomedical supply producers need to create alternatives to dextrose IV solutions. They could use non-GE corn and/or alternatives to corn.
  2. At the very least, healthcare practitioners should ask mentally alert patients if they have a corn allergy and if so, they should have alternative solutions on hand. (Dr. Reilly proposes one such solution.)
  3. Food regulators need to create and enforce more regulations on GE products. People need to know the contents of the products they buy and consume. While I am not aware of campaigns that highlight IV fluids in particular, we must start a culture of accountability around the things we consume. The Center for Food Safety is a leader in this effort. You can check out and join their political and educational efforts here and here. Please sign and spread widely.

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[1]  Erika Fry. “There’s a national shortage of saline solution…” Fortune. February 5, 2015; “Dextrose 5% Injection Large Volume Bags.” American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. October 30, 2015.

[2]  ATI Nursing Education. “Intravenous Solutions.”

[3]  United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. “Recent Trends in GE Adoption.”

[4]  Arjun Walia. “Ten Scientific Studies Prove that Genetically Modified Food Can Be Harmful to Human Health.” Global Research. April 8, 2014.

[5]  Caitlin Shetterly. “The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn.” Elle magazine. July 24, 2013.

[6]  “Corn Allergy.” American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; Dr. Pamela Reilly. “Corn in My Veins: Dextrose in IV Solutions.” September 28, 2011.

[7]  “Corn Allergy.”; Shetterly.

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