IV vitamin therapy offers wellness ‘cocktails’ despite risks

IV vitamin therapy offers wellness ‘cocktails’ despite risks

Bryon Wilson has an IV in his arm, but he’s not in a doctor’s office.

There’s no hospital bed, no fluorescent lighting, no anatomically correct digestion tract model or posters about preventing skin cancer.

He’s in a dimly lit room, reclining in a zero-gravity heated lounge chair that’s giving him a full-body massage, ambient music whirling from the speakers, drifting to sleep as the needle injects B-vitamins and amino acids into his bloodstream.

Wilson, who lives in Cary, is receiving IV therapy, also called IV hydration or vitamin drips, a method of delivering vitamins, minerals and water through a person’s veins instead of orally. When delivered intravenously, the micronutrients are absorbed at much higher percentages than they would be in the stomach.

Wilson, an avid cycler, is on a routine of three IV drips and four muscle injections per month. “I believe in this,” Wilson said. “From the bottom of my heart I believe that this can help a lot of people.”

Like many wellness trends, IV hydration has received two types of attention: from those who swear by it and those who swear it off.

These medical spas, boutiques and “drip bars” sometimes offer multiple wellness treatments in the same location, like cryotherapy or Botox, and feature a “menu” of vitamin and mineral combinations like “The Myers’ Cocktail,” a blend of B vitamins, vitamin C and minerals, mixed with sterile water.

Clients can book a same-day appointment online for drips like “The Champion,” designed for athletes, “Slimboost” to curb appetite, or “The Glow” for anti-aging. Drip bar websites claim their IVs can treat a variety of ills, from hangovers, jet lag and sun exposure to more serious conditions.

Kim Clark, a resident of Durham, was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2011. After four years of treatment, she relapsed, struggling with speech and stability, suffering severe migraines, experiencing joint pain and having trouble sleeping. Her condition also depleted her body of vitamin D, magnesium, and B vitamins. To treat the new symptoms Clark was put on a medical IV drip for five months.

“When I got off of that, I almost died,” Clark said.

Besides the symptoms from Lyme, she had contracted C. diff, a bacterium that infects the colon and causes severe intestinal conditions. Clark stayed in the hospital for a week.
Even after recovery, she had trouble regaining energy and strength. Her practitioner treated her with nutritional IVs in-office, but she stopped when the practitioner retired. When Prime IV Hydration and Wellness opened in Apex, she booked an appointment. Clark now goes there for vitamin drip every month.

“I’ll be 60 in November and I feel great,” Clark said. “Considering everything I’ve been through, I feel really good.”

Regulation for IV hydration centers varies by state, but in most cases are not held to the same scrutiny as medical providers. In the United States, the components of an IV hydration solution are considered prescription drugs and must be developed by a licensed pharmacist or physician to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
While some hydration clinics list a licensed pharmacist or physician on their staff, some are owned and operated by medical professionals who do not have a license to mix drugs, such as a registered nurse. Customers are usually not required to talk to their medical provider before receiving treatment or complete any preliminary health testing besides a vital screening and questionnaire.

According to a report published by the FDA in October 2021, the FDA has become increasingly aware of insanitary conditions where drugs are being mixed, particularly in IV hydration clinics, medical spas and mobile IV services.

In February 2021, a 50-year-old woman was hospitalized and treated for “suspected septic shock with multi-organ failure after receiving an IV-vitamin infusion in her home,” a result of a bacterial infection from the injection. Because IV clinics generally don’t register with the FDA, it is difficult to determine the extent of sanitation issues.

For IV hydration staff, the business can be an enticing alternative to stressful medical environments. Nicole Scott, clinical director of Hydrate Medical in Raleigh and Cary, had been working as an ER nurse in the middle of the pandemic.

The long hours late at night left her burned out and overwhelmed, so she began looking for a new job. At Hydrate Medical, she found an atmosphere completely different from the pressure of the ER.

Scott especially loves the work-life balance this job gives her. “It’s really awesome knowing that I can spend the morning with my daughter and get her after school, go to the gym and do all that stuff, and then be home in time for dinner, ” she said.

Their facility is owned by a board-certified emergency physician and an acute care nurse practitioner, and the rest of their medical team is comprised of registered nurses and paramedics. Scott said patients have been referred to them by neurologists or other physicians, sometimes with handwritten suggestions based on blood tests.

“Our providers are very committed to keeping this a health-centered facility, versus a lot of the other vitamin infusion clinics in the area that also do the cryotherapy or the Botox or the facials and stuff like that,” Scott said.

Some members of the medical community are still skeptical of the benefits of IV therapy. Sahil Dayal, a first year resident at West Virginia University, and Kathryn Kolasa, professor emeritus in nutrition at East Carolina University, published an article in 2021 titled, “Consumer Intravenous Vitamin Therapy: Wellness Boost or Toxicity Threat?”

In their study, they analyzed current literature about IV therapy and predicted potential risks. Most research they found concerning vitamin drips was anecdotal, meaning it is based on patient experience instead of trial-based studies.

“Everything anecdotal in my field, we do not rely on that,” Dayal said. “If I had a patient come in with a headache and she cracks an egg over her head every time to help the headache and she says it feels better, I’m not going to stop her. As long as it’s not causing harm. With this, I would stop it.”

Dayal worries about the risks of vitamin therapy, especially considering its lax oversight. Frequent use of IV therapy could cause nutrient imbalances, negative interactions with medications and increased risk of infection at the injection site. Even excessive water in the body can cause problems that consumers might not be aware of.

“You can get pulmonary edema, you can cause stress in your kidneys, you can cause confusion as your electrolytes get out of balance,” Dayal said.

Dayal suspects that the reason recipients might not report any adverse effects from their hydration experience is because they are often young, healthy patrons who care about wellness and are more likely to bounce back from imbalances in their system.

But to converts, the difference IV therapy has made in their lives is worth the risk. And, apparently, the price tag, as vitamin drips can cost upward of $100 each session.

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