What Are Vitamin IV Drips and Are They Even Good for You?
Vitamin IV drip treatments are surging in popularity, but do you really need to be getting your vitamins this way? We asked docs to break down the benefits and risks.
Earlier this year, Kendall Jenner was hospitalized for a "bad reaction" to a vitamin IV drip. She was ultimately fine and able to carry on with her evening plans, which happened to be the Vanity Fair Oscar party, NBD. But I couldn't help but find myself noting the irony that someone was hospitalized for a voluntary medical treatment. Shouldn't they be, well, good for you?
Although the service has been around since the 1970s, the recent wave of wellness-minded obsession for celebrities and influencers alike has helped bear witness to the explosion of IV vitamin therapy. A recent survey observed that IV therapies are among the most popular services advertised by naturopaths. They're now available at a litany of spas and wellness centers, too.
Here, we dug into science to bring you the full scoop on vitamin IV drips-including how they work and what experts have to say about their effectiveness.
What Is IV Vitamin Therapy?
Vitamin IV drips are a custom blend of a saltwater solution (a similar concentration to your blood's salt level) and vitamins that are cherry-picked by the medical provider-to strengthen your immune system, burn fat, cure a hangover, overcome jet lag, and more.
The idea behind IV (intravenous) vitamin therapy is to provide a more concentrated dose of nutrients. According to the journal Alternative Medicine Review, "intravenous administration of nutrients can achieve serum concentrations not obtainable with oral, or even intramuscular (IM), administration."
While the "menu" offerings will vary from place to place, the best-known vitamin IV drip is the Myers Cocktail-a mix of magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin C, says Olga Ivanov, M.D., owner the IV Lounge in Orlando, FL. This blend of vitamins has been found to be effective against acute asthma attacks, migraines, fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome), fibromyalgia, acute muscle spasm, upper respiratory tract infections, chronic sinusitis, seasonal allergic rhinitis, cardiovascular disease, and other disorders, she says.
Kollectiv NYC, a spa, offers IV vitamin drips on-site or via concierge through the NutriDrip program and has a much longer menu, offering a litany of drips that have electrolytes for rehydration, along with antioxidants including vitamin C that are great for immunity and fighting off colds, but also for hair, skin, and nails, Dr. Ivanov says. (Others also find it to be helpful for sleep, relaxation, and recovery. See: I Tried Vitamin IV Drips for Recovery and Walked Out Feeling Zen AF)
Does IV Vitamin Therapy Work?
The above list of ailments that vitamin IVs can help treat sounds impressive. But it's important to note that despite anecdotal support for these therapies, there's little evidence of their actual efficacy-and only a small amount of published research supporting the use of this treatment. (Related: How to Get the Most Nutrients Out of Your Food)
Many docs out there maintain that it's a waste of your time and money. "Vitamin infusions for healthy individuals are little more than snake oil-there's no data to support their use or literature that they offer any meaningful health benefit," says Rick Pescatore, D.O., an emergency physician and the director of clinical research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Crozer-Keystone Health System.
Dr. Pescatore adds that "vitamin C administered to healthy people has no effect-since it's a water-soluble vitamin, all it does is produce expensive urine." This applies to most vitamins, except for A, D, E, and K, which are fat soluble. With these four, the vitamins can accrue to dangerous amounts and plausibly become toxic, he warns. (Related: Why Healthy Fats Are Important for Nutrient Absorption)
Arielle Levitan, M.D., an internal medicine practitioner in Highland Park, IL, seconds Dr. Pescatore's concern, adding that the service-which can start around $100-is a costly and perhaps unjustified use of an invasive procedure. "Additionally, these treatments are short-lived," she says, so they're best used only as a quick fix if absolutely necessary, as in the case of an illness or extreme intoxication.
What Should You Watch Out for?
If you do want to proceed with IV vitamin therapy, know that there are a few conditions that may make you ineligible, including pregnancy, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and uncontrolled diabetes, says Dr. Ivanov. It's important that you have an evaluation first to make sure you have a therapy and dosage customized for you. "I personally see and clear every new guest which includes assessment of their vitals, allergies, past medical history, and their reason for visiting." In general, she clears 99 percent of her guests for their therapy, she adds.
While it's unclear exactly why Jenner was hospitalized beyond a "bad reaction," it's plausible that either the IV was not properly administered or the saline mix itself wasn't formulated correctly, notes Dr. Pescatore. That's why it's so important to make sure there's a licensed medical doctor on staff overseeing the clinic or spa to ensure best medical practices are followed. Likewise, "it is absolutely critical that you have nurses with extraordinary IV skills," says Dr. Ivanov.
What Can You Do Instead of a Vitamin IV Drip?
"Most of us are vitamin deficient and can benefit from taking the proper combination of vitamins," says Dr. Levitan. "A personalized multivitamin is a great way to get the right doses and amounts of vitamins based on your individual diet, lifestyle, and health concerns." Taking a regular daily dose of the right vitamins is a far more physiologic and effective way to replete vitamin needs, she adds, as they're often digested and absorbed in a way similar to whole foods. (Related: Could Vitamin Deficiencies Be Ruining Your Workout?)
While Jenner may have had the means to get a vitamin IV drip, most M.D.s agree it's a super-expensive placebo.