Intravenous vitamin treatment has been a hot topic in the healthcare arena for some time. Recently popularized by celebrities as a quick and easy way to maintain youth and health, IV vitamin treatment has been around for a while — and has been used for different purposes.
In the cases of malnourishment caused by severe illnesses such as cancer or cachexia, vitamin-boosted IV nourishment treatment is used to help supplement essential nutrients. But what does medical science have to say about IV vitamin therapy? Is it beneficial, or does it supply us with more vitamins than our bodies can use?
IV Vitamin and Nutrition Therapy Vs. Traditional IV Infusion Therapy
We’re all familiar with IV infusion therapy that is the basic part of patient care. It fights symptoms of dehydration as well as mild nutrition absorption disorders. Of course, IV infusion therapy also helps administer medications directly into the bloodstream of patients.
But is it the same as IV vitamin and nutrition therapy?
The short answer would be no. While traditional infusion therapy usually provides patients with specific medications they can’t take orally, IV nutrition and vitamin therapy go a step further. The clinics that offer this service claim that it provides the micronutrients that the majority of the population has a deficiency of.
Micronutrients — The Cornerstone of IV Vitamin Therapy
Micronutrients is an umbrella term covering all vitamins, minerals, amino acids and trace elements that make up a crucial part in our metabolic processes, tissue function, and cognitive homeostasis. According to studies such as Supplementation of Micronutrients in Community Micronutrient Deficiency Prevention Programmes, roughly 2 billion people worldwide suffer from a lack of micronutrients, which leads to malnutrition. The cause can vary from poor diet caused by excessive food processing, to an increase in age or obesity.
Micronutrient deficiency can be a factor in premature aging and illness development, according to the study A role for supplements in optimizing health: the metabolic tune-up. Studies like these suggest that healthcare professionals should pay more attention to conditions caused by micronutrient deficiency, and conduct tests that would detect this state. But is IV therapy indeed the best way to receive micronutrients?
Benefits and Drawbacks of Intravenous Therapy
Arguments in favor of administering nutrients intravenously seem strong. The most notable one is that oral administration of vitamins and micronutrients cannot reach the high levels that can be attained by IV administration. For example, vitamin C has a maximum concentration of 9.3mg/dL when taken orally, and 80 mg/dL when taken intravenously. However, vitamin C demonstrates its antiviral effect at a level of 10-15 mg/dL, which seems to suggest that only intravenous use would provide its benefits to the organism.
But are high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and amino acids administered directly into our bloodstream automatically good? It’s known that an excess of vitamins and minerals can be harmful to our bodies, which is why you see recommended daily doses printed on every package. Large amounts of vitamin A can cause liver and bone damage. Vitamin E in large doses can complicate or prevent normal vitamin absorption. Having too much of a good thing is a concept that’s 100% true for vitamins and other nutrients. So where do the benefits end and the drawbacks begin?
Intravenous Nutrition Therapy for Healthy People
What we’re seeing as a trend recently is IV nutrition or vitamin therapy marketed to people who don’t have serious illnesses. Alternative clinics recommend vitamin therapy for issues ranging from jet lag and fatigue to anemia. However, there are reported cases of these clinics never performing the blood tests required to learn whether the patient indeed has any nutrient deficiency — they merely recommend one of their cocktails based on the symptoms patients describe.
Furthermore, most of these health-improving cocktails are self-admittedly based on the Myer’s Cocktail, whose combination of high doses of magnesium, vitamin C and B vitamins is allegedly proven to have an immediate therapeutic effect on a range of clinical conditions. However, the question naturally poses itself: if a person who does not have any deficiencies injects a high concentration of unnecessary vitamins and minerals into their body, what can happen?
Some celebrities like Kendall Jenner seem to have found that out the hard way. While it wasn’t detailed what Jenner’s “bad reaction” to the IV vitamin treatment was, it was bad enough to warrant hospitalization before a significant event she was supposed to attend. People who use IV vitamin therapy as a hangover cure or boosting treatment should be cautious about it, as plenty of these treatments aren’t FDA approved.
IV Vitamin Therapy as Treatment for Certain Conditions
That’s not to say that IV vitamin or nutrition therapy can’t be useful in some cases. However, if it’s administered, it needs to be with a targeted approach — for example, a dose of magnesium to prevent premature labor and eclampsia, sodium edetate to detox from heavy metals, etc. It’s also useful when treating malnutrition caused by the patient’s inability to eat or absorb nutrients through the digestive tract, often in the post-surgery recovery time. Food intolerances, gastritis, allergies or other high inflammatory processes are all conditions where IV nutrition therapy could make a patient’s life easier.
Even in these cases, it’s important to note that IV therapy does not come without its risks. One of the lesser side-effects of IV needle insertion is bruising. Other, more severe side-effects include infection, bleeding, and even inflammation of the veins and dangerous blood clots.
Safe Alternative to IV Nutrition Treatment
Instead of reaching for the needle and miraculous cures right away, all patients who experience symptoms of nutrient deficiency should first try to improve their condition with proper diet. Vitamins and nutrients are found in food after all, which should be our primary vector of defense and immune system boosting. In most cases of nutrient deficiency, there is no need for intravenous therapy — food and oral supplements can take care of common problems.
As with any therapy or medication, IV nutrient therapy can have side-effects or end up not being useful to you. As it hasn’t been definitively proved by clinical research that IV vitamin therapy has anything more than a placebo effect, use caution when deciding whether you need it or not. Also, never pick out a vitamin cocktail from a menu before undergoing tests, and make sure you do thorough research on your practitioner before you commit to treatment.
Author: Kirill Vesselov
Kirill Vesslov is our resident writer about health and wellness as well as our pharmacy services.