(Diet Review) IV Vitamin Lounges – Peddling Health Or Straight BS? (And Really Big Needles)
We need to talk about the trend of IV vitamins and other nutrients being dripped into people at trendy IV vitamin lounges and clinics, because this is becoming a thing. IV lounges are popping up all over the place, catering to people who want to improve their energy, nurse their hangovers, help their cancer, and detox their bodies (SIGH) among other things.
Just for some background:
IVs are used in a healthcare setting for a few things. They are:
Fluid replacement/rehydration when a person is unable to consume fluids on their own.
Nutrition when a person is unable to eat – but to get enough nutrition to replace food, a person needs a central line right into their vena cava.
IVs, when inserted peripherally (i.e. in your arm), aren’t generally high risk. It’s more what you’re receiving in the IV that can be an issue.
For this post, I’m looking at a few of the IV therapy lounges/clinics in Toronto – but I’m sure IV clinics all make basically the same claims and offer the same services. Most if not all of these clinics are run by Naturopaths, which are regulated health professionals in Canada and well known for their alternative (read: not always based in solid science) views. But! As a reader pointed out to me the other day, there’s paper science and there’s anecdotal science, and both can be useful in treating individuals. I mean, if something isn’t harmful and someone wants to shell out money for it, then they shouldn’t be made to feel bad about that. I just like to educate my readers so they can make a good decision either way, and that is my purpose with this and other diet reviews.
Many of the IV therapy clinics have flashy websites plastered with gorgeous models who look like high functioning millenial executives and party girls and guys. Part of me thinks this trend is more of a lifestyle thing than a health thing. The people on the sites all look extremely happy and excited to be poked by a big fat needle. I can see the attraction to these places, though. There’s a ‘legit science’ feel to having a needle stuck in your arm and something in a bag infusing into your body, am I right? And these IV cocktails are expensive. I feel like it’s a declaration of high status to be able to afford to nurse your hangover with an IV, and to be ‘tough enough’ to get a large-bore needle shoved into your vein to do it. Yay! Let’s party! Back in the day, we used to nurse our hangovers lying on the couch and eating greasy food. Things have really changed!
Let’s examine some of the claims these places make:
With IV therapy, the nutrients “flood your body and nourish you on a cellular level”
What the eff is it with the ‘cellular level’ claim that I read far too often? Guess what? FOOD nourishes you on a cellular level, because how exactly do you think you body gets nourished?! This is the most bogus, hilarious thing to say about any sort of nutrient therapy because it’s describing something your body does anyhow.
The nutrients flood your body – as in, drenching your thirsty cells with precious things you’re not eating in your diet? The word ‘flood’ connotes an absolute rush – fair enough, but just so you know – this happens when you eat, too.
“Larger doses of nutrients can be administered intravenously then (their typo) orally, so you’ll feel better faster”
Or, your wallet will feel worse faster, since having megadoses of amino acids, vitamins and minerals shot into your veins will likely result in really expensive pee. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to convince people that in terms of vitamins and minerals – and most nutrients in fact – more is not always better. Vitamin C and all the B vitamins in particular are water soluble, meaning you’ll pee out what you don’t use. If you’re eating protein, you’re likely taking in all the amino acids you need.
With IV therapy, “nutrients bypass the digestive tract which means faster and more concentrated absorption than with oral supplements”
This is actually true. The bioavailability – how much your body absorbs – of IV nutrients is 100%, which is more than when you take them orally, and yes – absorption is technically faster because you’re bypassing the stomach and first pass metabolism in the liver.
Vitamin therapy “kick starts” your cells “which are performing below par to allow you to achieve improved health and wellness”
This is confusing. Why in the world would you blame your poor cells for your crappy health and wellness? In the absence of a serious disease, it’s probably not your cells that are messing up, it’s how you’re treating them. Tired? Try getting more sleep. Dehydrated? Drink more water. An IV is not going to launch you into the realm of eternal health and wellness, but making consistent changes to how you treat yourself will probably do that.
Also, nothing is being kick-started anywhere in your body when you receive one of these IVs. Well, nothing except your kidneys, because they’re getting ready to pee out all of that fluid along with the vitamins you don’t need.
Most cocktails available in these clinics run at least $100 per infusion, and most of them are some combination of vitamins B, C, and amino acids. While they might claim to do anything from burn fat (not a chance) to rehydrate you quickly (probably, but is that worth $100 and a painful needle stick? How about just don’t party so hard next time), there is ZERO scientific evidence supporting getting your vitamins, minerals, and amino acids from an IV unless you’re actually really sick. Most people who eat a halfway balanced diet are consuming enough of the nutrients in any one of these IVs – and I’m talking HALFWAY BALANCED – so you reading this: you’re okay.
The granddaddy of vitamin IV infusions that’s available in many of these IV places is the Myers’ Cocktail, which was developed by the late John Myers, MD.
The Myers’ cocktail hasn’t been studied widely, but this remarkably ridiculous review on it by Alan R Gaby, MD, who is trying to prove its worth, exists: http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/7/5/389.pdf
If you’d like to read a bunch of weak anecdotes, take a look at the article. One of the Toronto clinics actually has a copy of this review on their site, which is sad because it doesn’t really prove anything. The layperson will probably look at it and think ‘research!’ even though it’s actually not.
Nothing earth-shaking is in the Myers’ cocktail. And unless you take IVs on a frequent and consistent basis, this and other ones are unlikely to affect your health any which way.
Some of the IV cocktails of ‘honourable mention’ status that I’ve seen on local menus are:
The ‘Addiction Support’ IV
This IV cocktail supposedly alleviates withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drug detox. ‘The powerful blend of amino acids helps satisfy and eliminate addictive cravings’. Talk about blowing up some pretty poor research on the subject.
The contents of this IV – amino acids (otherwise known as the building blocks of proteins), B vitamins, vitamin C, ‘H20’ – because they can’t just say ‘water’, and calcium – will relieve cravings for a person who has gone through detox but still has a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol? This same clinic, which is run by a Naturopath, has a ‘Neurorecovery Program’ which is a 10 day detox with IVs for people addicted to anything from tobacco to HEROIN!! WHAT!!!
Clearly this pushes the boundaries of acceptable and responsible practice for any healthcare profession.
This particular clinic has a page on its website titled: ‘The Science’. I got really excited to read all about how you can stop someone’s serious heroin addiction (because any heroin addiction is serious) with some IVs, but there was nothing on the page!
Serious addictions need serious treatment, not IVs with amino acids in them and an expensive bogus 10 day detox program at the hands of a naturopath. If someone is still having drug cravings and is at risk for relapsing or is actively addicted, this isn’t a time for playing around. Any suggestion that these symptoms or states can be cured by IV therapy is unproven, unethical and irresponsible. This is a good indication, though, of the sort of pseudoscience BS we’re dealing with here. Shameful.
Hydrogen Peroxide IV
“Designed with the intent to be used as an alternative to traditional antibiotics for many various conditions, too many to list”
Too many to list, how about, the list is empty because telling people that they should be forgoing antibiotics in favor of an IV of hydrogen peroxide is just wrong.
There is no research supporting such a treatment, even in mice. Mouse studies in general aren’t as credible human ones, so if it’s not good enough for mice, it’s definitely not good enough for you. In fact, people have died after getting it – so just don’t.
All the places have this one (shocker!!), although it probably varies in its contents from place to place.
What doesn’t vary is the BS claims about ‘pulling toxins out of your body’ that these places say their detox IVs can do. One place has a detox drip to ‘draw out mercury and lead’ that contains amino acids, A and B vitamins, and zinc, niacin, and copper. Let me be the first to tell you that there is no evidence whatsoever that these vitamins and trace minerals do anything to detox your mythical toxins. If you’re concerned about lead and mercury poisoning, read this great article which explains that chelation therapy is actually unproven and regardless of what your alternative medicine practitioner tells you, you’re probably fine.
Are we going to drop the ‘detox’ thing now, because it’s getting old.
Containing the antioxidant glutathione, these anti-aging drips promise to bring your glutathione up to its youthful level and restore your youthful vigor and health. Unfortunately, glutathione is very unstable, and even when it’s administered by IV, it degrades in the serum rapidly. You can easily bring your glutathione levels up by taking an N-Acetylcysteine supplement though. It’s also fair to mention that there’s no human research on the anti-aging effects of glutathione.
Party Girl Drip
Maybe there’s cache in being SUCH a party girl that you have to be hooked up to an IV just to undo all that fun party damage you did the night before, but come on. I know, I was young once too.
Anything that rehydrates you and gives you B vitamins (the same vitamins that we give pregnant women when they’re nauseous) will decrease nausea and make you feel better when you’re hungover. This one is one of the only IV cocktails that will probably work like it says it will.
The Cancer Support IV
With this sales pitch: “For patients receiving conventional medical therapies, this high dosage Vitamin C infusion is clinically proven to help fight tumors and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.”
I’m speechless, for once in my life.
First of all, high dose vitamin C has NOT been proven to help fight tumors. In fact, it may interfere with chemotherapy. It may help with some of the side effects of cancer treatment, but it has NOT been proven to help fight tumors. Not in humans.
What bothers me the most about this IV is that like so many other alternative medicine therapies, the claims being made are being completely blown up and made to seem like they’re credible and not controversial.
The risk level may be low, but preying on vulnerable people by saying that an unproven treatment has absolute positive effects is a horrible thing to do. You’re essentially telling people to expect that the treatment is going to do something that it’s not going to do.
The risks of having an IV inserted into your arm and water soluble vitamins, trace minerals, and amino acids infused into your body is low. You might get an infection or blow a vein out, but still the risk is low of those things happening.
If you’re getting anything that hasn’t been approved by the FDA for IV use – like peroxide – then you’re on your own. Not recommended.
Some or most of the promises that these places make in terms of effect – whether it’s with detox, cancer, addiction, mood, and other health issues – are unfounded. A lot of the effects that these places promise aren’t really measurable, so they can basically tell you anything they want. For example, their glutathione (ie it’s an amino acid) IV is supposed to energize you and help your immunity, but how are you going to measure that? And how are you going to tell if the IV hydration is what’s giving you energy versus the ingredients in the IV cocktail?
Also, after one infusion of an IV, do you really think that your immunity will improve?
Keep in mind that effects from these IVs, whatever they may be, are transient, and in any studies on high dose vitamin IVs that had positive results, the clients had to attend many regular appointments to maintain the results. Got cash and time? Go for it.
IV hydration can improve your energy and help you feel better after partying, or if you’ve become dehydrated from being sick or something, but you can really just drink water and have a meal and have the same effect without spending $100+ and being stuck with a big needle. The needle is big, trust me, and it’s ouchie.
I take HUGE HUGE HUGE issue with healthcare professionals (or anyone really, but regulated healthcare professionals in particular) stating unfounded effects as absolute fact. This is particularly horrible practice when vulnerable ill and/or addicted people are involved. Nope. Nope. Nope. Unethical x 10000.
Even just because of that, I’d advise you to withhold your business from these people and places.
Otherwise, if you’ve got the money and the time, knock yourself out. Just don’t expect most of what they’re promising.