IV dilemma: Are vitamin infusions the real deal?
OK, so you had a big night out with your friends celebrating a birthday, and the hangover looms. Or, you’re suffering from severe jet lag after that 15-hour flight from Tokyo to New York and you can’t get back on your feet.
Whatever the malady, proponents of vitamin infusions (i.e., cocktails of nutrients) say that IV drip spas are the place to go for immediate relief. At between $175 and $1,000 a pop (for the luxury “drip”), it’s worth knowing if you’re getting the goods with vitamin infusions, and whether it’s safe to do so.
The origins of vitamin infusions are, like most hard evidence on vitamin supplements, hazy at best.
Some health specialists point to the Myers’ Cocktail, an intravenous vitamin concoction developed several decades ago by John Myers, a Johns Hopkins Hospital physician. The cocktail was comprised of a medicine chest of ingredients, including magnesium, vitamin B, vitamin C, and calcium.
From a medical perspective, the treatment involves administering vitamin “drips” directly into a patient’s bloodstream, through a needle injection directly into a vein.
Myers would feed the vitamin dosage to patients intravenously, as so-called IV bars do today. The anecdotal evidence, at least, supported the myriad health and energy benefits associated with the Myers concoction.
So far, there is no medical evidence that vitamin infusions actually work, but that hasn’t stopped clinics like Evolved Science in New York City or in-home providers like The I.V. Doc from providing vitamin drips for a steady stream of clients. The treatment isn’t cheap — Evolved Science charges start at $375 for a 30- to 90-minute treatment. At Hong Kong-based Revive, prices are even steeper, all the way up to $3,000 or more for select treatments.
What do medical specialists think?
That’s a hefty amount of cash, and health consumers looking for a vitamin boost may want to know if the price is worth the treatment.
For starters, it depends on where you go for treatments, medical experts say.
“I use intravenous vitamin therapy for specific patients in my practice, especially for chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and some autoimmune diseases,” says Dean C. Mitchell, M.D., clinical assistant professor at Touro University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, in New York City. “I’m not a big fan of the IV ‘bars’ as they tend to give minimal vitamins in the infusion. In addition, patients should be evaluated with certain blood and urine tests to make sure kidney function is adequate for the infusion.”
For consumers, having more than a general take on how vitamin infusions work is highly recommended, as well.
“In this medical savvy era, everyone constantly seeks the best way to improve their health,” says Dr. Sashini Seeni, a general practitioner of medicine at DoctorOnCall. “Hence, there is a rise of alternative medicines such as vitamin infusion therapy which is well-supported by a significant number of celebrities (including Simon Cowell, Madonna, and Kate Upton, among others).”
As Seeni explains it, vitamin infusion therapy is said to eliminate tiredness, improve the immune system, and can even be used in the treatment of several medical conditions, such as cancers, myositis, and asthma, among other issues. But consumers need to fully understand the considerations involved before committing to this therapy.
Medically, those considerations can lead to problematic outcomes, Seeni says.
“Vitamins are categorized into water-soluble (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, C) and fat-soluble (A, D, E, K),” she says. “The water-soluble vitamins will be easily excreted from the body through kidneys but the fat-soluble vitamins tend to be stored in the body.”
According to Seeni, some clinics will “modify” the vitamin combinations for individual need, like with the Myers’ Cocktail, which contains magnesium, vitamin B, and vitamin C. “That combination is said to cure the hangover, eliminate tiredness and even the treatment of fibromyalgia,” she says. “However, the efficacy of this therapy is yet to be proven as there are a lot of studies with mixed results.”
Another issue is the quality of care and safety at the clinics that usually provide vitamin infusions to the public.
“These alternative clinics are not well-regulated by any government body,” Seeni says. “There are risks of air embolism and infection if the personnel is not well-trained. Plus, these clinics do not have your medical records so there may be a risk of developing an allergic reaction.”
If needed, go to a pro?
Other medical experts say the risk of something going awry is too great to rely on vitamin infusion centers with no professional, certified medical training.
“Vitamin infusions may be subjectively helpful in some cases like a hangover, but they’re best administered in a clinical setting like a hospital since there isn’t much research on their use outside of a documented vitamin deficiency,” says Calloway Cook, founder of Illuminate Labs, a dietary supplements company in New York City.
Cook says that infusion clinics generally offer the same service to each customer, since there isn’t time to do a blood test beforehand (it takes hours or days to get blood test results back, he notes).
“Consequently, one person who has normal levels of vitamins and/or minerals in their blood would be getting the same infusion as a person who’s deficient,” Cook explains. “This is a haphazard way of treating health complaints, and anti-scientific.”
For that reason alone, Cook says he wouldn’t personally recommend vitamin infusions.
“If someone has a suspected vitamin or mineral issue, I would suggest they see their doctor and get a blood panel done so the issue can be treated in a targeted and strategic way, rather than the guesswork of a general vitamin infusion.”
Others concur with that assessment.
“As a physician and vitamin expert I say that vitamin infusions aren’t worth the cost and the risk,” says Arielle Levitan, M.D., and author of the book The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. “While vitamins can be an essential part of feeling better especially when dehydrated and after drinking, doing so via an IV infusion is not necessary.”
Having someone start an IV is invasive and runs the risk of bleeding, infection, or vein damage, she says. “Taking the right vitamins with fluids orally can have similar effects and is more convenient, less risky and cost-effective,” Levitan advises.
Dean Mitchell — Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sashini Seeni — Email: email@example.com
Calloway Cook — Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ariella Levitan — Email email@example.com