Curewell: IV hydration woo on my local news station

It’s no secret that, when it comes to local news, I usually watch our Detroit NBC affiliates news, WDIV Local 4 News. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I like the personalities. Maybe it’s just the comfort of many years of having watched the same news. Maybe it’s just inertia. Who knows? Unfortunately, WDIV had a tendency to air some very credulous stories. For instance, not long after I moved back to Detroit, WDIV aired a story on “ghost orbs,” otherwise know as flecks of dust caught by light from flag or other lights in a photograph, presenting them as though they might be real manifestations of ghosts or spirits. Later, they did equally embarrassing stories about a haunted house and ghostbusters. And don’t even get me started on the multiple advertisements disguised as news segments for quackery like acupuncture, including even acupuncture for pets. Unfortunately, WDIV is at it again, with an advertisement disguised as a news segment about IV therapy clinics or bars, more specifically a company called Curewell:

When I say that it’s a commercial disguised as a news segment, you’ll see that I’m not exaggerating. Indeed, it appears to be promoting one specific “IV drip bar,” Curewell:

Gatorade and Advil used to be the go-to for a hangover fix, but there’s a new option popping up in Metro Detroit

In the past year, two IV therapy clinics have opened up in Oakland County and they promise a quick recovery from a hangover.

The people who run the clinics said they can help with a lot more than just a hangover. Curewell IV Haus in Royal Oak isn’t a hospital, it’s an IV therapy spa. The cozy spa knocks down IV stereotypes.

“If you think, ‘Oh, they can’t find my vein,’ yes we can. ‘Oh, it’s going to hurt,’ no it won’t. ‘Oh, it’s like a hospital,’ no it’s not,” Curewell IV Haus co-owner Sabra Evans said.

Curewell IV Haus claims to be able to make a normally cringe-worthy experience, calming.

“You can come in and pick any spot you like and put your feet up,” Evans said. “IV therapy is the most health forward mechanism that you have to get hydrated.”

Curewell IV Haus only has licensed nurses and paramedics provide the IVs to customers. They also have a doctor on staff.

Gee, thanks WDIV, for doing your best to let the owners persuade people that IV needles don’t hurt when they are inserted. (Hint: They always do. They might not hurt a lot; the pain might be barely noticeable when the person inserting the needle is really good, but they always hurt at least a little.) Also, thanks WDIV, for emphasizing how only licensed nurses and paramedics start IVs. That must mean this isn’t quackery, right?

As is my wont, I cruised over to the Curewell IV HAUS website. (“IV HAUS”? Could the owners have chosen a more hipster name?) There I found various intravenous concoctions with Michigan-inspired names like The Great Lakes, New Agey names like The Goddess, or utilitarian names like Thin Is In or The Survivor. Then there are the claims:

IV therapy is simple. During your visit with us, our highly trained and licensed staff will greet you and assist you in selecting a treatment.

After you have completed a short questionnaire, we will take your vitals. Then, you will be given an IV filled with saline and the supplements of your choosing. The drip will take between 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

Most people will feel better immediately!

The best part about IV therapy is that it bypasses your digestive system and thereby delivers all its goodness directly into your blood stream.

Even if you drink a gallon of water a day, you will only absorb about 40% of it.

You can buy the very best vitamins on the market and your maximum absorption will be around 30%.

With IV therapy, you get 100% absorption, every time – with every drip. That is the ultimate bang for your buck!!

I’ve dealt with this nonsense before in my previous post on “IV bars,” including the fact that the FTC has cracked down on exactly the same sort of dubious advertising claims being made by Curewell. As I said before, there’s only one reason to give fluids or IV nutrients and vitamins intravenously, and that’s if for some medical reason the patient can’t take them orally. For example, if you’ve had your stomach removed (or, more specifically, a specific part of your stomach removed), you will be unable to adequately absorb vitamin B12, the deficiency of which over time leads to a condition known as pernicious anemia. The reason is that the proximal stomach makes protein called intrinsic factor, which binds to B12 and facilitates its absorption in the distal small intestine. However, vitamin B12 deficiency can take years to develop after gastrectomy because significant stores of vitamin B12 exist in the liver. In any event, people with surgery-induced B12 malabsorption most definitely do benefit from monthly B12 injections. In fact, they need them to survive. Also, gastrectomy can also impair the absorption of iron because gastric acid converts dietary iron to a form that is more readily absorbed in the duodenum.

Aside from times when patients can’t take hydration or nutrition by mouth, we use IV hydration when a patient needs very rapid rehydration, such as after significant blood loss, in which case we usually also give blood in the form of packed red blood cells. Often electrolytes are administered IV when rapid correction of low levels, too rapid for oral therapy, is required. As for IV hydration, just to “perk you up,” it’s unnecessary, and there’s no decent evidence that it’s better than oral rehydration. It is, however, quite expensive. Myer’s cocktail, for instance, is offered for $200 a pop. It’s basically just an IV multivitamin, but that doesn’t stop Curewell from saying:

Used in multiple disorders including Fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s Disease, Asthma, Seasonal Allergies, and much more!

That sounds almost like a health claim! Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, naturopaths love Myers’ cocktail. It’s basically an intravenous cocktail of various vitamins B vitamins, vitamin C, and minerals created by Dr. John Myers, who died in 1984. Myers never actually published his recipe for the cocktail, but the doctor who took over his practice, Dr. John Gaby, published a recipe that is the current one used for Myers cocktail, even though he admitted that he didn’t know exactly what was in Myers’ original concoction. Besides being popular among naturopaths, it was reportedly also favored by Michael Jackson. There is no evidence that it is efficacious for any of the conditions for which it is commonly used, other than anecdotes collected by Dr. Gaby.

But, WDIV apologists will say, there is some skepticism in the story. Really, there is, and, in fairness, I suppose you could call it that, but just barely and only if you squint very hard and give WDIV the total benefit of the doubt:

There are skeptics out there who want to know if it really works.

“In addition to my normal workout regiment, I try to stay hydrated and this is one of the ways that I do it,” Curtis Dunlap, who gets IV therapy regularly, said.

Hey! Curtis says it works! That should answer those pesky skeptics!

The difference between Curewell IV HAUS and iV Bars, which I discussed the last time, seems to be one of degree, with Curewell’s health claims being a lot less extravagant (and thus less easy pickings) than those of iV Bars. They both feature a lot of testimonials and little, if any, much science. Interestingly, though, I didn’t find a Quack Miranda warning anywhere on the Curewell website. Maybe there’s an opening there.

WDIV isn’t the only local station in my neck of the woods that has fallen into the trap of airing woo-filled stories. Indeed, the local ABC affiliate, WXYZ, was once home to a antivaccine conspiracy theorist as its primary investigative reporter, and last year the local Fox affiliate did air a story on Curewell that was just as bad and that I didn’t see because I don’t with that news broadcast. In any event, local news, be it here or anywhere in the US, tends to be a cesspit of credulity towards dubious health claims and paranormal nonsense. I’m beginning to wonder if I should switch stations, but none of the others are likely to be any better. On the other hand, you might have noticed that I hadn’t blogged in a couple of days. Personal and professional obligations had led me to plan to take a one week—or slightly longer—blog break. This dragged me back for a day. Thanks, WDIV.