There are some sayings that you shouldn’t take that literally such as “bleep hit the fan” and “need an infusion of young blood.” If you are thinking of throwing excrement at a fan, don’t. If you are thinking of getting a young person’s blood plasma actually injected into your bloodstream, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a warning for you.
The FDA is warning about “establishments in several states” that are selling such “young blood” plasma transfusions as supposed “treatments” for conditions like normal aging, memory loss, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
As I wrote previously for Forbes, the claim is that the yellowish liquid portion of a young person’s blood includes so-called “factors”, chemicals, or substances that can somehow rejuvenate you if you are older. This controversial belief emerged from some “parabiotic” experiments in which scientists stitched together the blood supplies of two mice, one older and one younger. Connecting their circulatory systems seemed to make the older mice stronger, smarter and healthier and their fur shinier, according to an article in Nature. Here is a TED talk from Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, the D. H. Chen Professor at Stanford University who has been doing work in this area:
Of course, these theories are far from established. Questions still remain about whether such experiments actually prove that young blood can make old mice younger.
Moreover, if you want to make your fur appear shinier, keep in mind that what happens in mice won’t necessarily happen in humans. In fact, so far, there is no real scientific evidence that such plasma transfusions work as treatments for any of the aforementioned conditions in humans. In other words, the FDA is emphasizing that there is not enough bloody proof behind the claims that these “establishments” have been making.
Plus, getting a blood plasma transfusion is not simply like eating a kale sandwich. It is a medical procedure with real potential risks, whether or not the plasma is from a Gen Z person. If you aren’t careful about how much plasma is transfused, it can be like connecting a fire hose to a plumbing system. The extra fluid can overwhelm your circulatory system. Plus, the plasma may lead to an allergic reaction or contain infectious pathogens like hepatitis B or C or HIV. Then, there is the possibility, albeit rare, of transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI), a reaction that may cause severe damage to your lungs. Such a conditions are not happy TRALIs and can throw you into respiratory distress.
That’s why you should not get a blood plasma transfusion unless there is a real proven medical reason to do so. Blood plasma is 92% water and can contain proteins such as clotting factors, antibodies, and albumin. Therefore, a doctor may give you a plasma transfusion if you need any of these added to your bloodstream. For example, you may have a bleeding or blood clotting abnormality and could benefit from extra clotting factors to help your blood clot. Or you may have liver disease and need some more albumin, which can help the balance of fluid in your blood vessels and the tissue surrounding the blood vessels.
The other issue is that blood is a precious commodity that is in short supply. It doesn’t exactly grow on trees, which would be a bit creepy, and the American Red Cross has been encouraging more people to donate blood to overcome continuing blood shortages. For example, the Red Cross has said that in September and October 2018, they “collected over 21,000 fewer blood and platelet donations than what hospitals needed.” In fact, the balance between donors and need is so tenuous that the polar vortex has been worsening shortages in some regions as described in this news segment:
So, when a young person donates blood, does he or she realize that the blood may actually go to a relatively healthy older person for a healthy sum of money rather than a person with a real medical need?
It’s not clear where these “young blood” businesses have been getting their blood supplies. The FDA announcement presumably will curtail at least some of their activities for now. Ambrosia is one establishment that has been offering such plasma transfusions at $ 8,000 a pop according to Jessica Hamzelou writing for the New Scientist. Following the FDA announcement, the company now has the following statement on its web site: “In compliance with the FDA announcement issued February 19, 2019, we have ceased patient treatments.” Ambrosia has been conducting a clinical trial of blood plasma infusions but I haven’t been able to find results from this trial published in any peer-reviewed scientific journals yet.
So if you think your organization or your basketball team needs an infusion of young blood, you had better be talking about bringing on someone with new ideas or more energy. If instead you want to give everyone Gen Z blood plasma transfusions, then the FDA may have a problem with that.