The growing trend of vitamin drips: Quick fix or quackery?

You no longer have to be hospital-bound to enjoy the delightful experience of being hooked up to an IV drip. For prices ranging from $75 to $275, you can pull up your sleeve, have a tube inserted into your arm and kick back for 30 to 60 minutes as a vitamin concoction of your choice flows into your bloodstream.

These vitamin drips — comprised of vitamins and minerals mixed with saline solution — are gaining popularity in the United States, with celebrities like Simon Cowell, Rihanna and Madonna reportedly getting hooked on the liquid vitamin treatment. 

Drip bars — also known as drip spas or cafes — have popped up in Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Scottsdale, Ariz., offering a menu of drips for everything from energy and detoxification to weight loss and anti-aging. You’ll also find the Myers’ cocktail — an intravenous version of a multivitamin pill — on most menus.

 

THE CLAIMS

These vitamin-infusion spas show little restraint when it comes to making bold claims. Some tout benefits for serious conditions like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, depression and, of course, the always-popular “detoxification.”

The Drip Room — a vitamin infusion spa in Scottsdale, Ariz. — boasts on its website that “weight loss, anti-aging, energy, sickness prevention and hangover remedies are only a few of the wonderful and amazing benefits one can receive from IV vitamin therapy.”

Reviv Wellness Spa, which has locations in Miami Beach and Las Vegas, says on its website that “hangovers, exercise fatigue, general exhaustion, jet lag and seasonal illness all drain your hydration levels and ruin your day. Reviv treatments speed up your recovery time.”

You might be wondering why customers don’t just buy a bottle of water and some vitamins at their local CVS instead — no needles and you’ll still be able to afford food for the rest of the week. The Drip Room explains: “IV therapy can be more effective than taking supplements/nutritional vitamins orally for correcting nutrient deficiency.”

Proponents claim they leave the spa feeling energized and more “alive,” and that their skin glows for days. Shirley Kelly, founder of The Drip Room, says she sees a lot of health and fitness fanatics, and customers get treatments as frequently as once a week to a couple of times a month. Energy and detox drips tend to be the most popular choices.

(Click here to see more photos of The Drip Room.)

 

THE TRUTH

1. Enough with the “detox” nonsense already!

Let’s start with the detoxification claims, just because we’re so tired of seeing this meaningless word applied to everything from juice cleanses to body wraps. 

Detoxing your body to remove all the bad stuff you put it in over the past few weeks sounds like a reasonable way to spend your hard-earned dollars, but the fact is there’s nothing to detox. Our body does an excellent job of detoxing already; our liver, kidneys and intestines filter the unwanted things we ingest and expel them through urine, bowel movements, breath and sweat.

People were talking about detoxification back in the early 1900s, according to QuackWatch. Supporters of the process claimed that “intestinal sluggishness causes intestinal contents to putrefy, toxins are absorbed and chronic poisoning of the body results.” Scientists abandoned this theory, though, in the 1930s, and these mysterious “toxins” that everyone keeps trying to get rid of have never been discovered.

 

2. Another pricey treatment with no scientific backing

The people advocating treatments like vitamin drips often sound very convincing, but the truth is that there’s no credible evidence to support the idea that this treatment provides anything but a very expensive placebo effect for the average healthy person.

Will your vitamin drip deliver more vitamins to your body than it can typically absorb from food? Yes. Will this do you any good? Probably not. It may have its benefits for those who can’t sufficiently absorb nutrients through their gastroesophageal tract, but if all your organs are working like they should, there’s absolutely no need to put a tube in your arm.

Hospital-based pharmacist Scott Gayura clearly lays out the existing evidence for the treatment in an article on Science Based Medicine:

“The only paper in the medical literature is the review paper by [Dr. Alan] Gaby (which collates impressive anecdotes, but no trials). Shrader published a study examining injectable vitamins for the use in asthma, but the study was unblinded with no placebo group. There is also a randomized trial by David Katz [director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine] examining efficacy for fibromyalgia, which failed to show any efficacy. … And that’s it for published evidence.”

The Katz trial mentioned by Gayura was a 2009 study showing that IV vitamin therapy reduced pain in fibromyalgia patients — but a placebo was equally effective.

 

3. What's so bad about just eating healthy food?

In many of life’s scenarios, cutting out the middle man makes perfect sense. Buying your produce from the farmers market instead of the supermarket, for example, is a practical way to get fresh, sustainable, local food for a (usually) lower price, all while supporting local business. 

But why is everyone suddenly considering food itself a middle man? Between juice cleanses, Soylent and vitamin drips, it seems like people are constantly trying to find a simpler way to sustain themselves that doesn’t involve chewing. PEOPLE: Food is one of the most wonderful things we have in life. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

While we understand that vitamin drips aren't a substitute for eating — as juice cleanses and Soylent are — this still seems like another case of people underestimating the benefits of what goes on our plates (if we choose our food wisely). Most of us get all the essential vitamins and minerals we need from our food — exceptions include those with certain health problems and some vegetarians or vegans.

“Unless you have a condition that prevents you from absorbing vitamins, your digestive system is all you need to deliver nutrients to your body. That's what it was made to do!” explains nutrition expert Keri Glassman. “More isn't necessarily better, and it's possible to overdo it. If you want an anti-inflammatory effect on your skin, adding something like salmon to your diet will give you a glow.”

"We are 'designed' to get nutrients through our GI tract; and absent a clear and compelling reason to do otherwise, that is how we should get them," Katz says.

 

4. Why take any risks when you don’t have to?

There’s still much to be learned about the effects of high levels of vitamins on the body. Because of the lack of research, experts fear vitamin-drip customers may be putting themselves at risk — in addition to the possibility of bruising, bleeding, blood clotting and infection.

“The doses do concern me,” Katz says in a segment on “The Dr. Oz Show.” “We don’t know what the right dose is. We know that antioxidants in very high doses can actually have pro-oxidant effects. We haven’t been studying this long enough to say what the effects are on things like aging.”

A Livestrong article explains how excessive amounts of certain antioxidants can potentially disrupt normal body functions:

“The mechanism behind the protective action of antioxidants is the same one that makes them potentially dangerous in high amounts. Antioxidants work by giving away an electron to compounds that are missing one. These compounds without enough electrons are called free radicals, and they can rampage through the body, destroying cellular components in their quest to acquire an electron. An adequate supply of antioxidants halts these free radicals in their tracks, but by doing so, they actually end up lacking an electron themselves. The body normally can provide enough of its own antioxidants to quench these newly needy molecules, but excess antioxidants can disrupt this balance.”

If you know you can get all your essential vitamins and minerals from a balanced, healthy — we should also mention satisfying — diet, why pay money (lots of it) for a treatment that could have unforeseen consequences? 

"In my opinion, this is quackery at a new level, but with potentially very dangerous side effects,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz. “The likelihood that there can be any real and meaningful improvement of your skin from injecting vitamins into your bloodstream violates our understanding of what vitamins do, how they do it and the actual physiology of the skin.”


Additionally, it should be mentioned that earlier this year, the Washingtonian reported a nationwide shortage of vitamin drips, party due to private clinics’ use of the supplies for nonmedical purposes.

All of this might be difficult for proponents of the treatment to hear, but think of it as good news (because it is!): You no longer need to dish out hundreds of dollars to get stuck with a needle. Just eat a balanced diet — and enjoy it! 

 

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