Short of eating a perfect diet, a daily multivitamin is often touted as the next best thing — if only remembering to take it was as simple as it sounds. But what if there was an easier, more effective way to get essential vitamins and nutrients into your body?
Well, you’ll first need to roll up your sleeves. Intravenous (IV) vitamin therapy may not be for the faint of heart, but celebrities like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Cara Delevingne are going under the needle to soak in its so-called health and beauty benefits. Instead of oral pills, liquid vitamin infusions are delivered directly into your vein through an IV drip. The cost: $100 to $250 per prick.
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And while the IV solution isn’t new, the menu of IV cocktails is ever-expanding, with solutions promising everything from anti-aging and increased libido to immunity support and hangover relief. But do these treatments really work? And, more importantly, are they safe? Here’s what you should know before the needle goes in.
IV Vitamin Therapy: Wellness in the Bag?
Vitamin drip therapy has been used for decades, particularly though not exclusively by natural health professionals. But you’ve likely been hearing about it a lot more recently with the rise of hydration therapy centers, or “hangover clinics,” where patients seeking immediate relief after a night of heavy partying can get pumped with an IV drip full of fluids and medication.
“Injecting vitamins into blood via IV bypasses digestion, allowing for 100 percent absorption.”
Now, in addition to hangover drips, specialized clinics or medical spas — like Drip Doctors, which has locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, VitaSquad in Miami and IVme in Chicago — have menus of highly concentrated vitamin infusions promising other wellness benefits. Each “cocktail” contains different combinations of vitamins, minerals and amino acids formulated for different goals. Think: boosting energy and immunity, illuminating hair, skin and nails, improving sexual function, maximizing athletic performance and recovery, promoting weight loss, reducing stress and even overcoming jet lag.
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But what’s the science behind the therapy? According to Dr. Anthony Ho, DO, an emergency medicine physician in Los Angeles and cofounder/medical director of Drip Doctors, “Stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, alcohol, smoking [can all] contribute to chronic inflammation in your body, which can have negative effects on your health and appearance. That may eventually lead to premature aging, depression, allergies, diabetes, heart disease, even cancer,” says Dr. Ho. “The best way to reduce and prevent inflammation and restore optimal health is with vitamins and minerals.”
But why not just take vitamins orally?
According to Dr. Ho, drips are simply more effective. “When you swallow a vitamin, you only absorb 20 to 30 percent of the nutrients after it goes through your digestive tract. So by the time it gets to your bloodstream, it’s a lot less potent,” he says. “Injecting vitamins into blood via IV bypasses digestion, allowing for 100 percent absorption.”
Is There a Catch?
Vitamins make us look and feel better, and as Dr. Ho and other proponents of IV vitamin therapy maintain, injecting them leads to higher absorption than swallowing. Yet, other medical professionals believe vitamin drips are at best, ineffective and at worst, unsafe.
“IVs always carry a risk of bruising, clotting, bleeding or infection.”
Dr. Rajkumar Dasgupta, MD, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, says there is no research-backed evidence that exceeding the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) is beneficial for the vast of majority of people in this country who don’t suffer true vitamin deficiencies. (RDAs refer to the estimated amounts of vitamins and minerals per day considered necessary for the maintenance of good health by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences.)
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“RDAs are there for a reason,” Dr. Dasgupta said. “These guidelines take into account what the body needs and what percentage is absorbed.”
Moreover, he warns that the risks of vitamin infusions, though small, do not outweigh the benefits. “IVs always carry a risk of bruising, clotting, bleeding or infection,” he says. Also, in rare cases, some people — particularly those on certain medications or with allergies — can have severe health consequences from receiving too-high doses of supplements including cardiac arrest and anaphylactic shock.
So Should You Mainline Your Vitamins?
As with many medical decisions, the issue of whether or not you should try IV vitamin therapy may not be so black and white.
True, there are risks and a lack of evidence about its effectiveness, but it might not be entirely without merit. Anecdotally, some patients report that regular vitamin drips help with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, migraines and nutrient-absorption disorders. If your medical practitioner gives you the go-ahead (and you don’t mind needles), then maybe give it a try.
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But if you’re generally healthy and are looking for an extra boost, Dr. Dasgupta recommends first trying to determine what part of your lifestyle is causing you not to feel your best. “Check for underlying disease, eat a balanced diet and don’t underestimate the power of sleep,” he says.
Resolving the root cause, rather than getting hooked up regularly to an IV drip, is better for your health long-term, not to mention your wallet.