Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Corn in my Veins: Dextrose in IV Solutions

I wanted to share an update to follow up on what happened Sunday night. (See my last blog post, EMTs in My Bedroom, to catch up on that.) The good news is that I returned to complete health as soon as my blood glucose levels returned to normal ... with one small exception.

To bring my blood sugar levels up rapidly Sunday night, I was given a 50% solution of dextrose. This would be fine, except that dextrose is directly derived from corn. The problem with that is that I have an allergy to corn. The incidence of corn allergies is rising rapidly, primarily due to the fact that so much of the corn grown in our country is genetically modified (GMO). I was very fortunate the reaction I experienced was not extreme. Many people with corn allergies experience anaphylaxis (deadly allergic reactions) when given dextrose intravenously. These allergic reactions typically include a swelling of the throat and mouth which often makes it impossible to breathe. Again, I was very, very fortunate.

On a side note, I'm also concerned that I had genetically modified material directly injected into my veins. Over 90% of corn grown in this country is GMO (genetically modified). Having that crap in my bloodstream concerns me gravely, but I'm taking measures to protect myself.

Although the physiology of an allergic reaction is the same, there is a huge difference between eating an allergenic food and having it directly injected into your bloodstream. Let's look at what happens during an allergic reaction:
  1. The body is exposed to an allergen, triggering a complex cascade of cellular reactions.
  2. White blood cells release allergy-specific antibodies which then bind to mast cells, a very specific type of blood cell specifically designed to protect the body from allergens and antigens. Mast cells are most commonly found in the digestive tract and the respiratory system, which explains why allergic reactions typically affect those body systems first.
  3. The cells of the allergen bind with the chain created by the bonding of the antibodies and mast cells.
  4. When the allergen cells bind with bonded antibody and mast cell chain, it stimulates the mast cells to release multiple chemicals and hormones that create a chain reaction designed to kill the allergen and protect the body. 
  5. The most common chemical released from the mast cells are histamines. The histamines cause common allergy symptoms (inflammation, itching, etc.) that we are familiar with.
So that's that. Obviously, eating a food and having it digested and absorbed through the digestive tract is very different from having a substance directly infused into the bloodstream. The reaction created by receiving an allergen via IV is typically much more rapid than that caused by eating a food. (The exception to this occurs with severe food allergies in which the sensitivity is so strong that the mast cells immediately release large amounts of histamines and chemicals that cause anaphylaxis.)

I received the dextrose Sunday night and experienced immediate nausea that persisted for four days. Remember those mast cells in the digestive tract? They sprang into action and did their job as soon as the blood containing the corn product circulated into my stomach and colon. (Nice, huh?) The next day, I was extremely congested (the mast cells at work again) and ached from head to toe.

The achiness is what signaled me that I had been exposed to an allergen. One of the most common, although often unrecognized, symptoms of food allergies is sore joints and achiness. This is created by the inflammation caused by the histamines and other chemicals released by the body in an attempt to protect itself from the allergen. I immediately began researching and realized very quickly that the dextrose was derived from corn. At that point, all I could do was help my body eliminate the allergen. I also treated the inflammation using natural methods.

The most visible allergic reaction I experienced occurred in the site where the IV was inserted, the back of my hand. The entire back of my hand and several inches of my arm turned stunning shades of black, blue and red with visible dark red blotches where blood vessels had burst. I wish I had taken a picture, because it was quite a sight. An IV typically produces a bruise, but not one that measures 6" x 6". The entire area was extremely tender, also a result of the inflammation created by the histamines. The inflammation created by the corn in the dextrose caused some of the smaller vessels in my hand to burst, and created leakages in the larger ones. Not at at all dangerous, just ugly and mildly inconvenient.

Was there an alternative? Yes. In my case, I could have been given a medication called glucagon. Glucagon stimulates the liver to produce sugar (glycogen) and to then release it into the bloodstream. Although glucagon has its own set of side effects, the use of glucagon could have eliminated the allergic reaction I had. It's a minor point since the reactions I had were minor, but its use could have avoided disaster had my reaction been severe.

As I stated in my last post, the EMTs who came were amazing. I'm so thankful they were there. I do find it incredible that standard IV procedure does not include asking the patient's family what allergies the patient has prior to the delivery of IV fluids. Dextrose is included in multiple IV solutions. Knowing that a patient has a corn allergy would enable the team to select an alternative solution and avoid disaster.

I'm sharing this to ensure that anyone with corn allergies is aware that some IV solutions contain corn derivatives. When possible, please ask about the contents of an IV solution before allowing it to be administered. Most glucose solutions contain corn derivatives. Be careful!


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! I had no idea and my son does have a corn allergy (though his does not result in the "typical" symptoms of a food allergy - now I can be more careful to hopefully never find out what would happen if it were injected into his bloodstream)!

    Glad you are doing okay!

  2. Wow. So glad this was helpful. I need to do more research about the meds and carriers used in IV solutions. I'm now very curious how many contain gluten and soy derivatives. Scary!

  3. My friend is critically ill and is very weak after 6 days of no nutrition since the hospital didn't have any iv's without corn in them and she has corn allergies. Does anyone know of an iv that can provide nutrition for someone with a corn allery?

  4. Hi, Anonymous. I am SO sorry to hear about your friend. There are nutritional IVs that are very different from the parenteral nutrition IVs administered in the hospital. See if the doctors are willing to custom blend a blend of vitamins and minerals using IV fluids (magnesium, B12, Vitamin C, amino acids, etc.) that can be administered in saline solution. That is the type of nutritional IVs we use in my office. They work well and contain zero corn. The use of corn dextrose in IV solutions borders on criminal, in my opinion. It is only used to provide calories, but these calories are nutritionally void and can create other problems with long-term use. There are alternatives that do not have the same allergen danger.

    I wish you and your friend well. My dad is currently hospitalized and I know that it is a very emotional and sometimes frustrating situation.


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