Woman dies after taking turmeric IV to treat eczema. What happened?

A 30-year-old San Diego woman died last month after she received an IV of turmeric solution by a naturopath.
A 30-year-old San Diego woman died last month after she received an IV of turmeric solution by a naturopath. Gerry Broome, AP File

A 30-year-old San Diego woman died last month after she received an IV of turmeric solution doled out by a naturopath.

Jade Erick was rushed to hospital on March 10 where she died six days later, U.S. reports say. A naturopathic doctor, Kim Kelly, had administered a 250-millilitre infusion of turmeric to Erick to treat her eczema. After just five millilitres, she became unresponsive, according to autopsy reports.

In the ICU, she was diagnosed with “severe anoxic brain injury secondary to cardiopulmonary arrest, most likely due to turmeric infusion,” the autopsy report read, according to NBC.

Her death had been ruled an accident. Experts admit it’s an incredibly rare incident but could it happen in Canada?

For starters, most provinces don’t include turmeric or curcumin, which the Indian spice is extracted from, on their lists of approved substances for intravenous use.

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“In Ontario, we have a very limited scope for intravenous treatment – vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and that’s about it. We don’t have access to curcumin,” Dr. Eric Marsden, a naturopath and spokesperson for the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, told Global News.

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Turmeric is used in naturopathy for a handful of reasons, from treating inflammation to addressing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

But keep in mind, the IV solution in this case wasn’t turmeric, but the extract.

“It’s not the stuff you cook with,” Marsden said.

His guess is that Kelly turned to turmeric as an anti-inflammatory to treat Erick’s eczema. It can be used for joint pain, or gastrointestinal inflammation, for example. It isn’t traditionally relied on to treat skin conditions, though.

Meanwhile, intravenous therapy has existed since February 2003 in Ontario, Marsden said. He’s one of the first naturopathic doctors that taught IV therapy, he said.

Since then, it’s only gained in popularity, according to Dr. Paul Saunders, a naturopathic doctor and spokesman for the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.

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Doctors and patients need to focus on deciphering if IV therapy is the best option.

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“We need to be careful, especially if we’re using a method that’s more invasive, that we’re doing so for a good reason, and we’ve exhausted other less invasive options,” Saunders said.

“It’s a great therapeutic modality that can make a major difference in patients but only when it’s used judiciously, appropriately and in a safe manner,” he said.

Oral medication, and making tweaks to diet and lifestyle, are typically the first line of defence.

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But IV therapy has its advantages: patients absorb much more than they would through oral medication. With vitamin C, for example, you can achieve 200-fold more concentration in the bloodstream than you would with oral medication, Marsden said.

In other cases, patients could have trouble with absorbing nutrients or they could deal with bouts of nausea, vomiting or inflammatory bowel syndrome from oral medications.

IV therapy removes those side effects.

Marsden turns to European mistletoe in IV form to help patients with cancer – a complementary measure with their first line of treatment.

He also turns to vitamin C IV infusions to treat fatigue, cardiovascular issues, and even for pre- and post-surgical support.

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The experts can’t talk about Erick’s case specifically, but their guess is that the IV may have sparked an allergic reaction. As far as they know, there hasn’t been a single death in Ontario tied to IV infusions doled out by a naturopath.

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Erick had multiple food allergies to soy protein, lactose and gluten as well as hypothyroidism and pre-diabetes, according to NBC News.

Erick had never had an infusion of turmeric before her second visit to the clinic. The first was a screening session.

Canadians worried about the tragedy should make sure they do their homework before visiting a naturopath, the experts say.

Make sure your ND has licensed credentials from the province and is certified by a provincial college. Regulators make sure naturopaths are inspected, go through rigorous training, and adhere to provincial policies and guidelines, Marsden said.

Also, decipher if IV therapy is your best bet and if the solution is addressing your needs.

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“IV therapy is getting a lot of buzz but the question is, ‘Do I need IV therapy? Is there a good rationale for this?’” Marsden said.

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Patients also need to determine if naturopathic medicine will get them the results they’re looking for.

“It is another thing entirely for these ‘healers’ to hook a healthy person up to an IV and pump turmeric into their veins,” Julianna LeMeiux, a senior fellow in molecular biology at Tufts University’s School of Medicine, wrote in the American Council On Science and Health.

“Spices do not exactly go through the same checks and balances as drugs that are intended to enter the bloodstream,” she said.

Britt Marie Hermes, an ex-naturopath who covers medicine and medical pseudoscience at Forbes, said that three clinics offer turmeric IV infusions in the San Diego area. They go for about $200 to $400.

“Naturopathic doctors frequently offer treatments that have not been fully vetted for safety or effectiveness, and many therapies used in naturopathic practice have been disproved by rigorous trials,” she wrote.

“This is likely the result of naturopathic education blurring the line between treatments backed by good evidence, and practices using ‘natural’ substances that turn profits,” she said.