Vitamin IV drips are a popular choice for people who want glowing skin and more energy, but are they better than eating a balanced diet? Helen Garston investigates.
Intravenous drips are what you’d normally expect to see patients hooked up to on a hospital ward, but instead they are a growing trend in many people’s beauty regime. It may seem extreme but more and more people exhausted from work, socialising or travelling are turning to these procedures as a way to boost their energy levels or improve their skin.
Doctors administering this therapy say it’s not just about beauty. Healthy skin does of course need a healthy diet, but many of us may be missing out. A reliance on processed foods and modern production methods that deplete our food of the nutrients our bodies require, means some of us may not be getting all the things we need to function optimally and have a healthy glow and as a result many people believe they need the extra vitamins and that IV drips are a more effective way of delivering them than tablets.
But some nutritionists are skeptical, saying at best IV drips are unnecessary, at worst even dangerous. They argue that you don’t need supplements unless you have a diagnosed deficiency and that studies have shown that certain vitamin supplements can be detrimental to your health unless you have a deficiency.
So what exactly is it and why is it so popular?
Vitamin IV (intravenous) Therapy was started in America in the 1960s by Dr John Myers who developed the Myers’ Cocktail, a formula of intravenous vitamins and minerals. His aim was to help patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and a long-term painful condition called fibromyalgia.
After his death in 1984 the idea was taken up by other doctors to treat a wider range of conditions after they discovered that vitamins injected into the bloodstream were absorbed more efficiently than when taken orally.
Since then, a number of different vitamin cocktails have been developed for less medical and more generalised or naturopathic reasons.
Aesthetics specialist, Dr Shirin Lakhani, sees up to 100 patients a month seeking vitamin IV therapy at her clinic Elite Aesthetics in Kent.
“When people come in the first thing they tend to say is: ‘I’m run down and tired’. We offer many different cocktails of vitamins and minerals, and we make recommendations after examining the patients,” she says.
“The main two are for rehydration – because almost everyone is dehydrated – or a micro nutrient cocktail which has mainly vitamins and amino acids in it. Another popular one is called Vitaglow, which contains a high dose of the antioxidant Glutathione. This is a naturally occurring substance in the body which helps prevent ageing, cancer and heart disease among other things but is depleted by a bad diet. There is a theory that we age because we lose our glutathione so it’s very important for anti-ageing,” she adds.
Can’t I get these from drinking water and eating a balanced diet?
The British Nutrition Foundation states: “Most people in the UK who consume a healthy, varied diet are likely to be getting all the vitamins and minerals they need from their diet and will not benefit from taking supplements, whether in tablet form or intravenously.”
Vitamin IV therapy is not a substitute for drinking enough fluids to be well hydrated or eating well according to Dr Lakhani and Dr Joshua Berkowitz, who also carries out the therapy at his clinic Wimpole Aesthetics in London. However, both say life is not as simple as that and many people just do not, or cannot, manage to eat a healthy and balanced diet.
Dr Berkowitz says: “Some people have jobs which mean they simply cannot get the nutrition they need. Some bankers get up at 3am to trade and are always run down. The way our food is brought to us also depletes its nutrients. We are constantly shown cookery programmes about what to cook but never taught the best way to cook to get the maximum nutrition from our food.”
Dr Lakhani agrees: “We eat a lot of processed food and modern production methods destroy vitamins.”
And she adds that the drips are a more efficient way of getting nutrients into the system. “To get the same dose orally you would have to eat at least 20 tablets. But pills and tablets have fillers which put stress on the liver and kidneys.”
Are there side effects or can it be dangerous?
But it’s not that simple according to nutritionist Dr Adam Cunliffe, Associate Professor from London’s South Bank University, who worries about bypassing the gut and the liver.
“We don’t know what the long-term benefits or risks are. If you are taking a tablet, the gut is very efficient at filtering out anything the body does not need but an IV infusion straight into the blood stream has no such safeguards.”
The British Nutrition Foundation warns: “Compared to the dietary route, far less is known about appropriate dose levels or combinations and about the potential toxic effects if the gut is bypassed.”
Dr Lakhani says: “The vitamins we use are water soluble so you can’t overdose. Anything your body doesn’t need gets peed out.”
And Dr Berkowitz adds that although there is always a slight risk with administering an IV (such as infection or an air bubble), the procedure should only be carried out by a by a doctor as it is at his clinic. He says, in the four years since they started doing them at his clinic there hasn’t been a problem.
But do they offer any real benefit?
Anecdotally yes – some people swear by them, but when it comes to real evidence Dr Cunliffe isn’t convinced. “The difficulty as a scientist is that there are no clinical trials to tell us whether this treatment is beneficial or not,” he says.
It’s a point not lost on the British Nutrition Foundation. “The important point to emphasise is that there have been no clinical studies to show that vitamin injections of this type offer any health benefit or are necessary for good health, therefore the short- or long-term impact on health is unknown,” it states.
Of course it’s a personal choice with many people saying their skin looks better and they feel better – but before you hook yourself up to anything between £150-400 worth of IV vitamins it’s worth considering if your doing anymore than boosting your hydration, and creating the world’s most expensive pee.