OCT 18, 2016 11:27 AM PDT

Raising Skepticism over Vitamin Drips and Hydration Therapy

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Around the country, people who feel that telltale sign of sluggishness are opting for a quick fix at the clinic. The procedure is known as a vitamin drip, and it’s sort of the opposite of a colonoscopy. Instead of cleansing the system of “unwanted toxins,” vitamin drips involve filling up on water, vitamins, and minerals via intravenous infusions. Some people swear by the magic of vitamin drips, but are there any actual science to this procedure?
 
The body is quite sophisticated at balancing the right amount of water, electrolytes, and other chemicals for proper health. However, this balance goes out the window when we get stressed, don’t get enough sleep, or perhaps had one too many to drink the night before.
 
The premise of vitamin drips is to restore this balance so that you can get back to regular life quickly without fully getting sick. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a clinic called RestoreIV operates on this very principle. RestoreIV charges patients $179 per 100 milliliter infusion that contains a cocktail of vitamins and minerals, which the clinic claims to have “immune protection.”
 
"These are your natural pharmacy," said Jason Hartman, who co-launched RestoreIV, "and in chronic diseases these things can be depleted [by] just a stressful lifestyle. And if they become deficient enough, it alters your internal pharmacology enough to possibly manifest as a symptom or disease."
 
Indeed, when our bodies are stressed, either by pathogens or by not getting enough rest, our whole homeostatic process is disrupted. But, if vitamins and minerals could put us back into the right state, then why are IV infusions necessary? Couldn’t the body absorb the appropriate nutrients from the right fruits and vegetables?
 
A healthy gut is more than capable of absorbing all the essential nutrients from our food. Thus, if you were to eat the right foods, there seems to be no real need to get the minerals and vitamins delivered straight to your veins. Furthermore, for mild dehydration, it seems that drinking more fluids would resolve the problem adequately without invasive intravenous infusions.
 

Fans of the procedure could argue that getting a controlled, concentrated dose of the right minerals and vitamins is more effective than waiting for the gut to absorb the same nutrients from foods. But researchers who specialize in naturopathic medicine say the “feel-good” effect from such procedures are likely due to the placebo effect.
 
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that in addition to out-of-pocket costs (insurance generally does not cover the procedures), patients are also subject to IV-related risks, such as bruising, bleeding, and even infection.
 
Of note, the disclaimer for one of the clinics, The Hangover Club, based in New York reads: "This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This service is intended only for healthy adults."
 
So, is it worth a few hundred dollars to potentially avoid feeling run-down? Perhaps. But the same effects may likely be obtained (and exceeded) for free with good diet and exercise.

Additional sources: NPR news
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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