What’s Up Wednesday 2/20/19

Replace This Old Blood

This is a new idea – aging is somehow related to one’s blood.  To reverse the aging process or to cure an age-related disease, it’s only necessary to replace the existing (old) blood with (new) blood from a young person; you should feel decades younger immediately.  This is the concept behind an emerging California craze that seems to have ensnared some gullible Silicon Valley residents.  It’s a craze centered in a few (we’ll be nice and call them experimental) companies which have touted the benefits of such blood-replacement treatments to unwitting or perhaps desperate clients – without any clinical evidence to verify the effectiveness of the therapy or the veracity of any high-minded claims.  Everybody knows that, like politicians, health care providers are above reproach – like the gaggle of health-care professionals (doctors included) that established pain clinics and then grew wealthy prescribing heavy, narcotic-based painkillers that most of their patients didn’t need – to the (indifferent it seems) detriment of many who would become addicted or worse, pass away from an overdose.

On the other hand, the government isn’t always right.  I believe there’s compelling evidence that, in its zealous regulation (for example) of dietary supplements (which let’s face it, came onto the market in great quantity with basically zero regulation), amounted to a knee-jerk reaction to a handful of tragic incidents; this in lieu of the careful evaluation of these products and their potential benefits to all consumers (most of whom had been taking them without incident for extended periods of time) – as a result, supplements that had benefited many were pulled from shelves and outlawed because of serious side effects to a few.  It’s not always fair.  It’s also a moronic and stupid practice by heavy-handed (badge-heavy) government officials and agencies.  So that could be what’s behind the FDA’s latest warning to anybody contemplating these plasma-infusion therapies.  One thing is undeniable.  Scrutiny by the FDA has already had a tangible effect on the plasma-replacement marketplace – Ambrosia Medical, the most visible and well known of the firms offering these treatments, has ceased operations, citing threats from the FDA as the reason.

Only in California, right?  If there’s a place anywhere in the world in which folks are as obsessed with the notion of eternal youth, I’d love to know what it is.  What does plasma-replacement therapy actually consist of?

For those who aren’t familiar with blood donations, there’s a distinction between donating blood and simply donating your blood plasma (and it’s blood plasma that you’ll find at the heart of these experimental infusion treatments).  Plasma is an integral part of whole blood.  Whole blood is the red stuff that comes from our wounds if we bleed, it’s what we’re given in the hospital if we require a transfusion following an accident or surgery.  Plasma (when it’s been separated from red blood cells) is a pale yellow fluid (by volume, plasma makes up a little more than half of the total blood our bodies contain) and it’s comprised of water, enzymes, salts, etc. – when it’s inside the body, it carries red blood cells, proteins, and other nutrients to various locations where those are required.  As opposed to the donation of (whole) blood, you can make money donating your plasma (not a lot of money, but some – and in this respect, many donors tend to be on the younger side – students for instance – or others who aren’t yet established in a career and can use extra funds).  Depending on the amount of plasma you are willing to donate (your physical size has an impact on the amount the FDA allows you to donate at any one sitting – and there are also limitations on how often in a given time period you can legally donate your plasma – let’s face it, the government doesn’t want any of us keeling over), and depending on where in the country you reside (because rates for donations are different from one zip code to another), you’ll probably make between $20 and $50 in a given donation cycle (certainly helpful if you’re a student).  Let’s face it, (since we just celebrated Valentine’s Day) twenty to fifty dollars can set you up with something for your significant other that you may otherwise have been forced to forego.

After your plasma has been extracted and separated from the blood’s red cells and other components, those are returned to your system in a saline mixture to replicate the amount of volume the plasma originally occupied.  And never fear – your body, given time, will replenish the plasma it has lost.  Following a donation, you may experience some fatigue.  You may be extra thirsty (minor dehydration’s a possibility).  But if your system is healthy and functioning correctly, these annoyances should be modest and temporary.  And plasma, while it’s not effective for standard emergency room transfusions, has plenty of vital and significant uses – it’s used to treat autoimmune disorders, hemophilia, burn-related shock, and other trauma symptoms.

Apparently, one thing that blood plasma will not do, according to the FDA, is provide a fountain of youth to someone who is aging and wishes he wasn’t or somebody who has a serious, life-altering disorder and wishes she didn’t.  Blood transfusions (the kind that we would routinely receive in hospitals after surgery, etc.) are of course FDA approved – and some of the companies engaging in replacement plasma therapies seemingly have justified the safety and effectiveness of their treatments based on the FDA approval and widespread use of standard blood transfusions (an integral, in fact irreplaceable part of today’s emergency care) – even when the two really aren’t comparable.  And these participating companies get paid handsomely (and they don’t need to deal with insurance companies given that no insurance carrier in its right mind would sanction let alone compensate such an unproven and potentially risky procedure).  The relatively low cost of plasma should probably make these treatments inexpensive, everything else being equal.

The clinical evidence that these youth transfusions are effective is sorely lacking – and if you’re tempted to give the procedure a try be aware that there are actual risks associated with it (besides just significant amounts of wasted money).  These therapies are clinic based (they don’t take place in hospitals).  This is part of the problem.  Another part of the problem is related to the doses being administered in these clinics – because the treatments aren’t FDA approved, there isn’t any guidance relative to the doses of plasma a patient receives.  Because of this, the risk of infection is fairly significant.  Worse, the possibility of a life-threatening allergic reaction is very real and because the therapy isn’t being conducted in a proper hospital setting, the ability to treat any such reaction (in time to save a patient’s life) becomes problematic.

Still can’t wait to give plasma-infusion therapy a try?  Now that these outfits have been put on notice (I’m not sure that I would want to mess with the FDA either), it may be difficult to locate somebody who’s still willing to provide you with the youth-infusion treatment (if you’re so inclined).  I’ll make one suggestion: before you commit to the procedure, try consulting a couple of folks who have been through it.  It would be interesting to sit down with somebody who has actually undergone this plasma-replacement therapy to counter a disease (like alzheimer’s) or simply to try reversing the aging process (a desire that just about anybody walking around can relate to).  If they swear by it, maybe it’s not so bad.

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