Does IV Vitamin Therapy Really Work? Here Are the Pros and Cons, According to Experts
Hint: If you're otherwise healthy, it's probably not necessary. Talk to your doctor first.
Americans have been taking vitamin supplements since the 1940s, and today more than one-third of us take some form of vitamin or mineral dietary supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health. But in recent years, people have been getting their vit fix by another means. If you think IV vitamin drips are a passing fad, think again.
In the celebrity world, hooking yourself up to a drip for an infusion of health-boosting vitamins and minerals has become as standard as throwing back a green juice. Vitamin drips may not be backed up by rigorous scientific evidence, but that hasn’t stopped Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Chrissy Teigen, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and various other stars sharing pictures of themselves getting IV vitamin treatment on their social media pages. And it’s by no means a new fad—Rhi Rhi was doing it back in 2012.
More recently, Ariana Grande put herself on an IV drip after cancelling one of her “Sweetener” tour shows. In an Instagram video, she tearfully told fans, “It hurts so bad to swallow. I unfortunately don’t think I’ll be able to push through tonight, and I’m so… sorry.”
Vitamin infusions aren’t just for A-listers, Erika Schwartz, MD, founder of the Manhattan-based wellness center Evolved Science, tells Health.
“Anyone who wants to feel and look their best can benefit from an IV infusion,” Dr. Schwartz says. “The benefits are numerous: improved mental clarity, immune boosting and defense against viruses and flu, body and mind fine tuning, and even clearer, smoother skin (by supporting collagen production).”
Other reported benefits of the IV vitamin drips include burning fat, fighting jet lag, and even getting rid of a hangover, although there is very little scientific evidence to support such claims.
A growing concern to many is the potential for adverse effects. In 2018, Kendall Jenner was hospitalized after she had a bad reaction to a “Myers cocktail” IV drip. (In the 1970s, John Myers, MD, was the first to give patients a mixture of vitamins B and C, plus calcium and magnesium, to help boost energy levels and improve immune systems.)
In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission 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. A final order issued in 2019 prohibits the Texas-based company and its owner from making such claims unless they can 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, warns that taking vitamins via an IV drip can be dangerous if it’s not provided by a doctor for a specific medical condition. “At best, it’s likely unnecessary,” she says. “By taking IV vitamins you are bypassing 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 points 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 – you could pay anything from $99 to $750 per treatment, the effects of which can be expected to last up to two weeks.
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 says. “Foods that contain lots of vitamins and minerals are also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which help to support the immune system better than vitamins alone,” she adds.
On the other hand, if you have a digestive disorder that prevents proper absorption for nutrients, Harris-Pincus believes IV vitamin therapy can be a great thing – but points out that it’s something to be discussed with a doctor in the first instance.
While naturopathic doctor Heather Tynan’s approach is always to begin treatment with the least invasive option, and she acknowledges that we need more extensive studies on the effects of vitamin therapy, she 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 tells Health. But she stresses that getting those “materials” should always be done carefully and correctly, by suitably qualified experts. “In general, properly administered vitamin therapy is quite safe,” she says. “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,” she explains. “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: At this point, there is not enough scientific evidence to determine whether and how it might work against the new coronavirus, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. “IV vitamin C is not a cure for COVID-19,” the Institute bluntly concludes.
A vitamin infusion should provide what you need and nothing else, Tynan adds. “Injections should consist of just the nutrient or nutrients required and sometimes saline solution, all carefully blended to ensure safe dosing and osmolarity, she says. “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 argues that it’s extremely difficult 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. She acknowledges that it’s possible to overdose on water soluble nutrients like the B vitamins but says it’s practically unheard of. “Excess of the nutrient is quickly excreted by the body,” she says.
IV vitamin therapy can be a great thing for people who have digestive disorders that prevent proper absorption for nutrients, says Harris-Pincus. But she warns that if IV vitamin therapy isn’t provided by a doctor 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 says a sports drink with fluid and electrolytes will 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 doctor, who knows your medical history and can advise whether vitamin therapy is safe—and necessary—for you.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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