Why Are Chinese Students Getting Amino Acid Infusion Therapy?

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This is a hot topic at the moment. Yesterday morning, a kid in Hubei posted some alarming pics of a classroom where the students were all hooked up to IV drips. Looked like something out of a Michael Crichton story — you know, one of the earlier, good ones. (I’m assuming all this is true and not some weird-ass hoax.)

If you can see embedded images, here’s a taste of the horror:

If not, go here for the freakshow.

There’s a lot that can be said about this silliness. First, it’s another reminder that students in China are way too stressed out and subject themselves to ridiculous forms of torture to further their academic careers. Second, putting this much significance on a single examination (the Gaokao) is insane. Third, where the f&%@ are the parents, teachers and the government in all this? One of the photos shows the teacher calmly going about his business, so I assume that the parents thought this IV thing was a great idea. Moreover, if the rumors are true, the government may have subsidized this activity.

The above three issues are disturbing and well known. This kind of thing happens every year as kids put themselves through hell to prep for the college entrance examination. The public sympathizes with the students and, although not everyone agrees with the IV approach, folks seem fine to ignore the whole thing.

But there’s another question I have: where is the medical community in all this? I understand that China has an unhealthy fixation on intravenous therapy, but these kids are not hooked up to the usual saline or glucose solution:

In an interview with local media in Xiaogan city, a teacher from the school surnamed Xia said the pictured students were receiving amino acid drips that would help increase their body strength.

“Some students were not feeling well these days due to the bad weather. As the exam is approaching, more students are coming for the IV drip at the clinic than its capacity can hold,” the teacher said.

Amino acids? Increase their body strength? Look, I understand that these kids are really tired. Maybe they haven’t been eating well. I also doubt that amino acids are dangerous. But is this at all efficacious? I wonder.

Instead of an IV drip, how about a healthy meal? Perhaps an energy drink to balance electrolytes? There are lots of other solutions out there that don’t involve needles. IVs are usually reserved for instances where either the patient cannot hold down liquids or if time is of the essence. I don’t think either is the case here. These kids are sitting in class — they don’t have the time or energy to slurp down a bottle of Gatorade?

As far as this amino acid therapy is concerned, I’d love to hear from a real doctor on this. It sounds like yet another rumor, maybe based on the ramblings of a “researcher” at some low-tier university out there who performed a “study” and announced that the therapy could do wonders for students. These poor kids will try just about anything to get an edge.

But hell, I don’t know. I tried a quick Google search and only learned that in some studies, an amino acid infusion correlated with better renal plasma flow. Exciting news, although I doubt that these kids are all having kidney trouble.

In the end, though, I don’t really care if an amino acid infusion might be useful in boosting the energy level of these kids. They’re just tired, need more rest and healthy food. Sticking an IV in them for the sake of the Gaokao is, as so many folks have pointed out in response to this story, unacceptable.