Medically rated by dr. Lisa Larkin
Have you seen celebrities on social media brag about the benefits of vitamin and mineral infusions? Also known as hydration therapy or IV therapy, these infusions deliver large amounts of vitamins and minerals directly into the bloodstream through an intravenous (IV) drip.
So why are Adele, Rihanna, Madonna and many more getting these treatments — and should you try this expensive service too?
We asked Dr. Lisa Larkin, an internist and member of the HealthyWomen Women’s Health Advisory Council, to weigh in.
What are Vitamin and Mineral Infusions?
Medical professionals have long provided nutrients and hydration to hospital patients through IV. Now the so-called IV bars, IV bars, and IV lounges are popping up everywhere — making the process of getting an IV drip as easy as getting a facial. Many companies even offer concierge services, come to homes, hotels, or even music festivals to perform IV therapy.
Vitamin and mineral infusion companies claim that their services improve people’s skin, strengthen their immune systems and even help them recover faster from a hangover or strenuous exercise. Infusions typically last 20 minutes to an hour and cost between $40 and $800, depending on the type of infusion being administered.
The Myers cocktail, which claims to improve fibromyalgia, asthma attacks, depression and migraine attacks, is a popular infusion. The Myers cocktail formula, named after the late Dr. John Myers, who created the infusion, combines high doses of B and C vitamins, calcium and magnesium in sterile water. However, the specific proportions he used were never recorded, so Myers Cocktails are not standardized.
Glutathione is another popular infusion in which patients are given a mixture of vitamins, minerals and the antioxidant glutathione, which is otherwise synthesized naturally in the body. The advertised benefits are aimed at lightening the skin, preventing heart disease, cancer and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Are Vitamin and Mineral Infusions Helpful?
No studies support the Myers cocktail as a treatment for any condition or disease. Similarly, there are no studies that support the advertised benefits of injectable glutathione (other than that it is approved as an adjunct to chemotherapy with cisplatin, a treatment for advanced cancer of the bladder, ovaries, or testicles). In fact, there are no robust studies confirming or denying the benefits of vitamin and mineral infusions, even in patients recovering from surgery or with malabsorption problems.
We know that IV therapy claims to provide high doses of vitamins and minerals, but what happens when you have excess vitamins in your body? Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are stored in various internal organs and can be dangerous in excess. Water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C and B vitamins) are released through the urine (which is why many argue that vitamin therapy does nothing but result in “expensive urine”.)
“Usually in young healthy people, you actually get a liter of IV fluid,” Larkin said. She stressed that the lack of published research and regulation makes it impossible to verify the claims of IV therapies. “Because hangovers are associated with dehydration, getting a gallon of IV fluid can make you feel better,” she added.
Are Vitamin and Mineral Infusions Safe?
Like the supplements, vitamin infusions are completely unregulated. They are outside the scope of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and there are no clinical guidelines for their administration or intended use.
While Larkin is open to potential — albeit scientifically unproven — benefits of hydration therapy for hangovers, she expressed concern about the vitamin infusion participants experiencing negative reactions. Because of the invasive process of piercing the skin with a needle, IV therapy inherently introduces potentially life-threatening complications, such as anaphylactic allergic reactions or endocarditis, a bacterial infection that reaches the heart valves after entering a person’s bloodstream.
While these complications are rare in sterile, medical settings, the FDA has already found that the one-brand glutathione injections had up to five times the tolerable limit of bacterial endotoxins, putting people at risk for blood infections.
“As a doctor who practices and has seen all kinds of complications related to all kinds of things for 30 years, you just know that this is not safe,” Larkin said. Without appropriate scientific studies to support these procedures, Larkin does not recommend vitamin and mineral infusions for anyone, especially those who are immunocompromised.
Most of the evidence surrounding vitamin infusions is anecdotal, meaning it comes from a patient’s or physician’s experience, not scientific data. Until scientific studies can verify the benefits of vitamin and mineral infusions and make them subject to regulation, we have only unconfirmed claims.
Perhaps the popular saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” can offer a tried and true guideline.