Over the last few years, IV therapy has been grabbing more time in the spotlight. And while some of the buzz has come from its ability to replenish electrolytes after a dehydrating night of boozing, IV infusions offer much more than a quick hangover fix.
IV therapy, in which nutrients (or sometimes, just sterile water) is intravenously administered into your bloodstream, boasts a slew of health benefits that range from alleviating brain fog and aiding muscle recovery to supporting immunity and enhancing skin health.
And many of us need all the help we can get — our modern-day lifestyles are sapping our systems like never before. “Poor nutrition, too much stress and limited rest and self-care can lead to dehydration and vitamin depletion,” explains Sarah Giordano, RN, BSN, an IV Therapist at THE WELL.
Our bodies, which are made up of 60 percent water, require adequate hydration to function properly. But as a nation, we’re parched; reportedly, 75 percent of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration.
“Poor nutrition, too much stress and limited rest and self-care can lead to dehydration and vitamin depletion.”
Overtime, dehydration and vitamin depletion can cause side effects such as inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbances, poor digestion, weakened immune function, unhealthy skin, slowed hair and nail growth and premature aging, according to Giordano.
How IV therapy started
In the 1960s, John Myers, MD, began using various formulas of vitamins and minerals to treat a wide range of conditions. What’s now referred to as the “Myers’ cocktail” typically includes magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin C, and studies show that Myers’ combination of ingredients is effective when treating 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.
Functional medicine pioneer Frank Lipman, MD, Chief Medical Officer of THE WELL, has been using "Myers' cocktail IVs to treat his patients for 20 years. “It works really well, especially for people who are tired, run down or frequently getting sick,” says Lipman. “It is a way to get nutrients quickly without having to go through the digestive system.”
One of those patients is Scott Berliner, RPh, a clinical integrative pharmacist. “Dr. Lipman treated me with IV glutathione supplementation, which reduced my liver and spleen size by half when I was going through my own bout with cancer,” says Berliner, who also notes that glutathione — a master antioxidant — can help the liver get rid of toxins, such as alcohol. Says Berliner: “Anyone with a less-than-healthy lifestyle, especially those with immune issues, can benefit from the basic vitamins used in infusions.”
What vitamins are included and what do they do?
At THE WELL, we offer a variety of IV Vitamin Therapy Drips, all aimed at supporting various need states — from immune function to increased energy.
Giordano recommends doing IV therapy one to two times per week until symptoms are relieved. “At that point, we move to every other week, monitor success and stability and continue to back off until we reach the desired maintenance program — anywhere from once a month to once every couple of months,” she says.
Below, Giordano breaks down some of the vitamins included in our drips and their benefits:
- Vitamin B Complex — Boosts energy levels and maintains the essential functions of the body, including supporting metabolism and immune funnction, balancing mood and aiding in mental clarity.
- Vitamin C — Reduces your risk of getting sick (or lessens the severity if you do) and helps your body get rid of excess cortisol, the main stress hormone.
- Biotin — Plays a crucial role in the process of metabolizing fat and regulating the nervous system, and is vital for transporting nutrients to skin, hair and nails.
- Glycine — Helps block neurotransmitters that lead to stress and poor sleep quality, and works to enhance mental performance and mood.
- Glutathione — Alleviates fatigue and brain fog, while improving energy levels and immune function. While this crucial antioxidant is naturally produced in our bodies, levels become depleted due to poor nutrition, alcohol consumption, environmental toxins, stress and aging.
Can’t we just get nutrients from our food and supplements?
Critics of IV therapy tend to claim that we can get the nutrients we need from dietary sources, but that assumption overlooks some important factors.
Research shows that stress affects micronutrient concentrations within the body and leads to micronutrient depletion. Due to the stressful nature of our lives, our bodies are actually using the vitamins and nutrients we supply them faster than we can replenish them.
Plus, the process in which foods get digested and nutrients get processed is complex, especially when you take into account common digestive issues that interfere with proper nutrient absorption.
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“What we eat needs to go through the digestive system at the correct pace, broken down, processed and absorbed — it’s a longer timeline, with lots of variables where it could go wrong,” says Giordano.
Take glutathione, for example. “Dietary nutrients in foods such as mushrooms, strawberries, Brazil nuts and kale, support glutathione production but would have to be completely absorbed by the gut before being converted. A faster alternative? IV infusion, which leads to 100 percent absorption of glutathione directly into the bloodstream,” says Giordano.
Case in point: According to this study, because of decreases in food-crop magnesium content, in addition to chronic diseases, medications and the availability of refined and processed foods, the vast majority of people in modern societies are at risk for magnesium deficiency. Not great considering that magnesium is an essential mineral that plays many roles in the body.
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Are there risks involved in IV Therapy?
Risks such as infection, allergic reaction and more do exist, but are not very common and, for the most part, they are preventable or manageable if identified early.
“Any injection with a needle is considered invasive and carries the risk of localized bruising and bleeding, regardless of whether it’s administered by a doctor or an RN,” Dr. Naomi Kaplan, a resident physician in physical medicine and rehabilitation told Good Morning America.
Plus, because the needle used in the IV injection passes through your protective skin barrier and directly into your bloodstream, there is some risk of an infection, especially if the needle used is not sterilized.
That’s why it’s important to get an IV infusion administered by a doctor or nurse, in a sterilized environment designed for IV therapy. (Currently, the FDA is not monitoring supplements used in IV therapy, which means businesses that provide these services defer to their own standards of safety).
Another concern: Your body can only use a certain amount of vitamins. Since the vitamins, minerals and amino acids in IV infusions are water soluble, anything that doesn’t get used gets flushed out via urine. “That’s true,” says Giordano, “the body is intelligent and takes what it needs and eliminates what it doesn’t. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
Ultimately, IV therapy is a supplemental way to add to your health, but it is certainly not a bandaid fix for unhealthy habits. As Dr. Lipman says: “You need to take responsibility for your own health. You can't rely exclusively on someone shooting you up with vitamins. That's missing the point.”