Vitamin Therapy IV: Pros and Cons

If you're otherwise healthy, it's probably not necessary. Talk to your healthcare provider first.

Americans have been taking vitamin supplements since the 1940s. A quarter or more of individuals in their 20s or 30s take a vitamin or mineral dietary supplement. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), for those who are 60 years or older, the number jumps to almost 40%.

Possible Benefits of Vitamin Therapy IV

Not everyone likes taking pills as their source of vitamins or minerals. One method people use to get their vitamin fix is intravenous (IV) vitamin drips.

In the celebrity world, hooking yourself up to a drip for an infusion of health-boosting vitamins is standard. Vitamin drips are not backed up by rigorous scientific evidence. Still, many celebrities have shared pictures of getting IV vitamin treatment on their social media pages.

Vitamin infusions aren't just for A-listers, Erika Schwartz, MD, founder of the Manhattan-based wellness center Evolved Science, told Health.

"Anyone who wants to feel and look their best can benefit from an IV infusion," Dr. Schwartz said. "The benefits are numerous: improved mental clarity, immune-boosting, defense against viruses and flu, body and mind fine-tuning, and even clearer, smoother skin (by supporting collagen production)."

Other reported benefits of IV vitamin drips include burning fat, fighting jet lag, and getting rid of a hangover. However, there is very little scientific evidence to support such claims.

Potential Risks of Vitamin Therapy IV

One concern is the potential for adverse effects. In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged iV Bars, a chain of IV cocktail clinics, with making false and deceptive claims that its products, including the Myers cocktail, could treat serious conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and congestive heart failure. According to a case report published in 2002 in the Alternative Medicine Review journal, the Myers cocktail is named after John Myers, MD. Dr. Myers developed the IV drip in the 1960s and was the first to give patients a mixture of vitamins B and C, plus calcium and magnesium, to treat various medical conditions.

The FTC issued a final order in 2019 that prohibited the Texas-based company and its owner from making such claims unless they could be supported by "competent and reliable scientific evidence."

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, warned that taking vitamins via an IV drip can be dangerous if a doctor does not provide them for a specific medical condition. "At best, it's likely unnecessary," Harris-Pincus said. "By taking IV vitamins, you bypass your body's normal digestive process that has built-in safeguards for absorption, meaning you could end up with too much of some things."

Harris-Pincus also pointed out that there's a slight risk of infection whenever the skin is broken—a risk that's increased when an unqualified person is administering the drip—and that the treatment is costly and not covered by insurance. Prices vary greatly depending on the clinic and the location and can cost hundreds of dollars. The effects of IV vitamin therapy can be expected to last up to two weeks.

Other Considerations Before Trying Vitamin Therapy IV

Even if you don't experience any complications, IV vitamin therapy might not offer any more benefits than a sports drink with fluid and electrolytes (if you need help with a hangover) or a diet rich in vitamins and minerals (if you're trying to prevent illness), Harris-Pincus said. "Foods that contain lots of vitamins and minerals are also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which help support the immune system better than vitamins alone," Harris-Pincus added.

On the other hand, if you have a digestive disorder that prevents proper absorption of nutrients, Harris-Pincus believed IV vitamin therapy can be a great thing—but pointed out that it's something to be discussed with a doctor in the first instance.

Naturopathic doctor Heather Tynan always begins with the least invasive treatments. And while Tynan acknowledged that we need more extensive studies on the effects of vitamin therapy, Tynan doesn't hesitate to recommend or provide it "when a patient presents with lower than adequate nutrient reserves."

"We cannot heal when we don't have the materials we need to be healthy," Tynan told Health. But Tynan stressed that getting those "materials" should always be done carefully and correctly by suitably qualified experts. "In general, properly administered vitamin therapy is quite safe," Tynan said. "In rare cases, an allergic reaction may occur, but those trained in administering nutrient therapy should also be trained in quickly responding in such scenarios, and have the appropriate supplies to manage such a reaction immediately accessible."

In Tynan's opinion, there are times when our bodies need more than the typical resting amount of a given nutrient. "For example, when we come down with a cold, our bodies burn through much more vitamin C than they do when we're in a healthier state," Tynan said. "Swallowing this vitamin is plausible in doses up to a few thousand milligrams, but beyond that, it tends to cause diarrhea. So, an IV infusion of vitamin C works around this problem to provide greater quantities of a substance that is much needed in order to more quickly and effectively fight the infection."

A note of caution: There is not enough scientific evidence to determine if Vitamin C infusions work against COVID-19, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. "IV vitamin C is not a cure for COVID-19," the Institute bluntly concludes. And according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), as of 2021, there was not enough data to make a determination on the role of vitamin C in the treatment guidelines for COVID-19.

Tynan added that a vitamin infusion should provide what you need and nothing else. "Injections should consist of just the nutrient or nutrients required and sometimes a saline solution, all carefully blended to ensure safe dosing and osmolarity," Tynan said. "Most doctors will require results of a micronutrient analysis before initiating vitamin therapy. This typically consists of a bloodwork panel which will spell out specific quantities of individual nutrients already in a person's system so that the need for nutrient therapy can be accurately determined."

Tynan also argued that it's challenging for someone to "overdose" on a nutrient. For starters, the vitamins that pose a risk of overdose (such as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K) are much less commonly given via shot or IV, which drastically reduces the risk of toxicity due to overdose. Tynan acknowledged that it's possible to overdose on water-soluble nutrients like the B vitamins but said it's practically unheard of. "Excess of the nutrient is quickly excreted by the body," Tynan said.

IV vitamin therapy can be excellent for people who have digestive disorders that prevent proper absorption of nutrients, said Harris-Pincus. But Harris-Pincus warned that if a doctor doesn't provide IV vitamin therapy for a specific medical condition, it's likely unnecessary at best and possibly dangerous at worst. And if you feel like you need some extra help with a hangover, Harris-Pincus said a sports drink with fluid and electrolytes would probably fit the bill—much easier, cheaper, and with no side effects.

Like anything to do with your health, the best starting point is a chat with your healthcare provider, who knows your medical history and can advise whether vitamin therapy is safe—and necessary—for you.

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