What is intravenous vitamin therapy?
Intravenous (IV) vitamin therapy (also known as intravenous micronutrient therapy and hydration therapy) is a way to give high concentrations of vitamins and minerals directly into the bloodstream, allowing rapid absorption of higher doses of the vitamins and minerals than if the person got them through food or supplements.
These liquids are delivered through a small tube inserted into a vein.
The infusions typically take 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the volume of the cocktail and the size of the person's veins.
IV vitamin therapy is touted by many celebrities and is available at many IV bars, drip bars, and IV lounges.
The Myers' cocktail is a popular formula among complementary and alternative medicine providers for IV vitamin therapy.
The Myers' formula consists of high doses of B vitamins, vitamin C, and minerals (magnesium and calcium) mixed with sterile water.
Dr. John Myers developed and administered the first IV vitamin treatments in Baltimore in the 1970s.
Any vitamin or mineral can be infused intravenously, and some doctors who administer the infusion have changed the amounts of the vitamins in the Myers' cocktail (this is called the modified Myers' cocktail). Some doctors have also individualized doses for frail, older people and children.
What claims are made about intravenous vitamin therapy?
IV vitamin therapy is supposedly best used for people who cannot get enough vitamins and minerals because they cannot eat enough food or an illness prevents them from absorbing nutrients.
However, in contrast, some advocates claim that IV vitamin therapy can enhance wellness even in people who do not have vitamin (or mineral) deficiencies. Clinics and companies offering the Myers' cocktail and other high-dose IV vitamin formulations claim that these infusions can do the following:
Treat dehydration after extreme exercise or too much alcohol intake
Boost the immune system Overview of the Immune System The immune system is designed to defend the body against foreign or dangerous invaders. Such invaders include Microorganisms (commonly called germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi) Parasites... read more (although what this means or how this could be done is not clear)
Increase levels of energy and reduce fatigue
Relieve stress, anxiety, and depression
Eliminate toxins from the body
Make skin healthier
Treat hangovers and headaches
Treat asthma, allergies, chronic sinusitis, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart disease, acute muscle spasms, and Parkinson disease
Treat migraine and tension headaches
Sellers of IV vitamin therapy also claim that infusions are better than dietary sources of the vitamins because
The infusions can be given to people with various food sensitivities.
Large amounts of vitamins and minerals are delivered directly into the bloodstream, so they have a more direct path into the cells and mitochondria, where they allegedly have beneficial effects.
Does intravenous vitamin therapy work?
Very few studies have tested the effectiveness of the Myers' cocktail or any other form of high-dose IV vitamin therapy in people who do not have a vitamin or mineral deficiency. (Also, no published evidence so far has shown that this therapy is effective for any serious illness or chronic disease.) Thus, evidence is mostly anecdotal, meaning that it is limited to people's personal remembrances. Anecdotal evidence is generally not considered strong evidence.
Injections of individual vitamins or minerals are evidence-based treatments for people with deficiencies of these nutrients or to manage the side effects of certain drugs.
But evidence also shows that the best way to obtain needed vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is through the diet, with only occasional exceptions (for example, sometimes iron or vitamin B12).
The few studies that have been done were small, did not include a placebo group, or showed that the infusions were not more effective than placebo.
In 2018, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged a company marketing and selling the Myers' cocktail and other IV vitamin and mineral infusions of making "deceptive and unsupported health claims" about the ability of these infusions to treat such diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and heart failure.
The FTC argued that these health treatment and efficacy claims were false or not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.
What are the possible side effects of intravenous vitamin therapy?
As with any IV treatment, IV vitamin therapy can make the body more vulnerable to infection and can cause blood clots, and burning sensations at the injection site.
In people with abnormalities in blood levels of magnesium or potassium (for example, caused by kidney disease, use of diuretics or excessive use of alcohol) infusions containing magnesium (or, less commonly, potassium) can cause problems such as abnormal heart rhythms or muscle weakness.
In people with heart conditions or high blood pressure, a high-dose vitamin infusion could lead to fluid overload, which could temporarily, but occasionally permanently damage the kidneys, brain, and/or heart.
If the infusion is administered too quickly, it can lower blood pressure (probably due to the magnesium), which can lead to light-headedness and fainting.
According to a few study reports, infusions of the Myers' cocktail or another combination of vitamins and minerals can lead to symptoms of depression, insomnia, and upset stomach.
Excess amounts of vitamins and minerals can be harmful. For example, large IV doses of thiamine, a B vitamin, can cause anaphylaxis Anaphylactic Reactions Anaphylactic reactions are sudden, widespread, potentially severe and life-threatening allergic reactions. Anaphylactic reactions often begin with a feeling of uneasiness, followed by tingling... read more , a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Also, high doses of vitamin B6 may cause damage to peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy Polyneuropathy Polyneuropathy is the simultaneous malfunction of many peripheral nerves throughout the body. Infections, toxins, drugs, cancers, nutritional deficiencies, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and... read more ).
The safety of IV vitamin therapy in pregnant and breastfeeding women has not been studied.
What drug interactions occur with intravenous vitamin therapy?
Which drugs interact with IV vitamin treatments depends on which vitamins and minerals are infused and their doses. A few examples of interactions are listed below:
Intravenous vitamin B6 can lead to poorer responses to drugs taken to stimulate the production of blood cells (for example, erythropoietin, epoetin alfa, and darbepoetin alfa), often used in people with chronic kidney disease or cancer.
Magnesium may interact with antihypertensives, resulting in low blood pressure.
Ceftriaxone, an injected treatment for certain bacterial infections, could bind together with infused calcium in the blood, so this combination could damage the kidneys, lungs, or gallbladder.
Use of IV vitamin therapy in healthy people should be discouraged because none of the claimed health effects have been confirmed.
The safety of IV vitamin infusions is unclear, in part because it depends on which vitamins and minerals are infused, how quickly the infusion is administered, and the dose of each nutrient.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women and people with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or a heart condition should avoid the Myers' cocktail or other types of high-dose IV vitamin therapy.
People who do not have a vitamin or mineral deficiency and those who take certain drugs (including drugs to stimulate red blood cell production and ceftriaxone) should talk to their doctor before using Myers' cocktail or other types of high-dose IV vitamin therapy.