Healthier skin? Check. Boosting your immune system? Check. Curing that Sunday-morning hangover? Check.
These are but a few of the health issues IV vitamin therapy promises to solve or improve through an infusion of various vitamins and minerals. The treatment, which has gained popularity over the past few years, has taken the once cringe-worthy experience of being stuck with a needle and turned it into a wellness regimen-must. It’s even got a long list of A-list celebrities — from Rihanna to Adele — backing it.
Yet, as is the case with most wellness fads, it begs the question of legitimacy.
Can this treatment really do everything from curing jet lag to improving sexual function — or are we falling victim to yet another craze that promises big health results without requiring us to put in much effort? Not to mention the question of safety.
To get the lowdown on everything from what happens to your body during a session to the risks involved, we asked three medical experts to weigh in: Dr. Dena Westphalen, a clinical pharmacist, Dr. Lindsay Slowiczek, a drug information pharmacist, and Dr. Debra Sullivan, a nurse educator who specializes in complementary and alternative medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, and cardiology.
Here’s what they had to say:
What’s happening to your body when you get an IV drip of vitamins?
Dena Westphalen: The first IV vitamin drips were developed and administered by Dr. John Myers in the 1970s. His research led to the popular Myers’ Cocktail. These types of infusions generally take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and take place within a medical office with a licensed medical professional observing the infusion. While you’re undergoing an IV vitamin drip, your body is receiving a higher concentration of the vitamins themselves. A vitamin that’s taken by mouth gets broken down in the stomach and digestive tract, and is limited on how much can be absorbed (50 percent). If, however, the vitamin is given through an IV, it’s absorbed at a much higher percentage (90 percent).
Lindsay Slowiczek: When a person receives an IV vitamin treatment, they’re receiving a liquid mixture of vitamins and minerals through a small tube inserted into a vein. This allows the nutrients to be absorbed quickly and directly into the bloodstream, a method that produces higher levels of the vitamins and minerals in your body than if you got them from food or supplements. This is because several factors affect our body’s ability to absorb nutrients in the stomach. Factors include age, metabolism, health status, genetics, interactions with other products we consume, and the physical and chemical makeup of the nutritional supplement or food. Higher levels of the vitamins and minerals in your bloodstream lead to greater uptake into cells, which theoretically will use the nutrients to maintain health and fight illness.
Debra Sullivan: Variations of IV therapy have been prescribed by doctors and administered by qualified nurses for over a century. It’s a quick and efficient way to deliver fluids or medication into the body’s circulation. During an IV vitamin treatment, a pharmacist will usually mix the solution per the doctor’s orders. A qualified nurse or healthcare professional will need to access a vein and secure the needle in place, which could take a couple of attempts if the patient is dehydrated. The nurse or healthcare professional will then monitor the vitamin infusion to ensure the rates of vitamins and minerals are administered properly.
What kind of person or type of health concerns would benefit the most from this practice and why?
DW: Vitamin infusions are being used for a wide variety of health concerns. Conditions that have responded positively to the Myers’ cocktail treatment include asthma, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, muscle spasms, pain, allergies, and sinus and respiratory tract infections. A number of other disease states, including angina and hyperthyroidism, have also shown promising results to IV vitamin infusions. Many people are also using IV vitamin therapy for quick rehydration after an intense sporting event, such as running a marathon, to cure a hangover, or for improved skin clarity.
LS: Traditionally, people who aren’t able to eat enough food, or who have an illness that interferes with nutrient absorption would be good candidates for IV vitamin therapy. Other uses for IV vitamin drips include correcting dehydration after extreme exercise or alcohol intake, boosting the immune system, and increasing energy levels. However, it’s important to note that most healthy people are able to get enough of these nutrients from an appropriate, balanced diet, and the long- and short-term benefits of IV vitamin drips are questionable.
DS: The most popular reasons for IV vitamin treatment is to relieve stress, rid your body of toxins, balance hormones, boost immunity, and make you skin healthier. There are positive anecdotal claims of relief and rejuvenation, but there’s no hard evidence to support these claims. Vitamins used in the IVs are water soluble, so once your body uses what’s needed, it will excrete the excess through your kidneys into your urine.
What kinds of vitamins or minerals would this method work best for?
DW: There’s no limit to which vitamins the IV therapy can work to infuse into your body. The best vitamins for this treatment, however, are those that are natural to a person’s body and can be measured with levels to ensure that the IV infusion is given at a healthy dose.
LS: Commonly seen ingredients in an IV vitamin drip are vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, and calcium. IV vitamin drips may also contain amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and antioxidants, such as glutathione. Talk with your doctor about what nutrients you may be lacking.
DS: Vitamins are infused at IV drip vitamin clinics and usually contain either a single vitamin — such as vitamin C — or a cocktail of vitamins and minerals. I would not, however, recommend IV vitamin therapy unless there’s a medically diagnosed reason for the infusion and it was prescribed by a physician based on the patient’s diagnosis and body composition.
What are the risks, if any?
DW: There’s a risk of infection with IV vitamin therapy. Any time you have an IV inserted, it creates a direct path into your bloodstream and bypasses your body’s first defense mechanism against bacteria: your skin. Although the risk of infection is unlikely, it’s important to consult with a licensed medical professional who will perform the therapy to manage this risk and ensure you have a healthy vitamin infusion.
LS: There’s the risk of getting “too much of a good thing” with IV vitamin drips. It is possible to receive too much of a specific vitamin or mineral, which can increase the risk of adverse effects. For example, people with kidney disease cannot remove certain electrolytes and minerals from the body very quickly. Adding too much potassium too quickly could potentially lead to a heart attack. People with certain heart or blood pressure conditions can also be at risk of fluid overload from the infusion. In general, excessive levels of vitamins and minerals can be hard on the organs and should be avoided.
DS: Risks associated with the infusion in general include blood clots, and vein irritation and inflammation, which could be painful. Air embolisms can also be introduced through an IV line, which could cause a stroke. If the infusions aren’t carefully monitored and the fluid drips too quickly, there’s a risk of fluid overload, which could affect electrolyte balances and damage the kidneys, brain, and heart.
What should people look out for — and keep in mind — if they’re planning to undergo IV vitamin therapy?
DW: People who want to try IV vitamin therapy should look for a reputable doctor who will be monitoring and providing the infusions. They should also be prepared to provide a comprehensive medical history. This should include any health concerns they’ve encountered over the course of their life and any medications they’re currently taking, or have recently taken. It’s important for them to include not only prescriptions, but over-the-counter (OTC) medications, dietary supplements, and teas that they drink regularly.
LS: If you want to try IV vitamin therapy, it’s important that you do your research. Talk with your primary care doctor to see if IV vitamin therapy is right for you. Ask them if you have any vitamin or mineral deficiencies that could be helped by IV vitamin therapy, and whether any of your health conditions could put you at an increased risk for an adverse reaction to the drip. Always make sure that the doctor you’re receiving IV vitamin therapy from is board certified, and is aware of all your health conditions and concerns.
DS: Be sure the clinic is reputable because these clinics aren’t closely regulated. Remember, you’re receiving vitamins — not drugs. Do some research before you go and see if there are any reviews of the clinic. The clinic should look clean, the hands of those administering the IV should be washed, and gloves worn by the specialist should be changed each time they meet with a new client. Don’t let them hurry the process or not explain what’s being done. And don’t be afraid to ask for credentials if you’re in doubt of their professionalism!
In your opinion: Does it work? Why or why not?
DW: I believe that IV vitamin therapy is a valuable treatment option when provided by a medical professional, and that it works for many patients. I’ve worked in conjunction with several vitamin infusion doctors and their patients, and have seen the results that they’ve experienced. For many people, the management of chronic dehydration and healthy skin is a great boost to their quality of life. The research in regards to vitamin therapy is limited at this time, but I suspect more research will be performed and released in the upcoming years about the benefits of IV vitamin therapy.
LS: There are very few studies available that have tested the effectiveness of IV vitamin therapies. There’s no published evidence to date that supports the use of this therapy for serious or chronic diseases, although individual patients may claim that it was beneficial for them. Anyone considering this treatment should discuss the pros and cons with their doctor.
DS: I believe there’s a placebo effect in receiving this type of therapy. These treatments are usually not covered by insurance and are pretty pricey — about $150–$200 per treatment — so clients are likely to want the therapy to work since they just paid a lot of money for it. I don’t have anything against the placebo effect, and I think it’s great as long as there’s no risk — but this type of therapy does come with risks. I would rather see someone exercise and eat nutritiously in order to get an energy boost.