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The Truth Behind Trendy IV Vitamin Therapy

Drip bars claim to cure hangovers, boost immunity and combat aging, but experts urge caution

woman holding a water with fruit in it and getting an iv drip placed in her arm at a drip bar

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IV lounges and drip bars have popped up in cities across the country, promising intravenous vitamin infusions that can boost your hydration, give you energy, support immunity and fight the signs of aging.

Proponents say IV therapy is effective because it bypasses the digestive system to deliver hydration, nutrients and minerals directly into your bloodstream. Celebrities including Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Adele, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend have used IV therapy as part of their wellness routines.

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But experts say there is little scientific evidence backing the treatments. They also caution that medically unnecessary IV drips could be risky for some people — particularly those who have heart disease or kidney problems.

For these individuals, getting too much fluid too fast could be harmful because their “heart or kidney can’t tolerate a lot of salts and fluids being introduced into their bodies,” says Sam Torbati, M.D., co-chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “Medically speaking, that’s where there is the most potential for harm.”   

He recommends checking with your medical provider before visiting a drip clinic.

Can IV therapy help with hydration?

An IV can be lifesaving for a patient who is severely dehydrated, nutrient deficient or suffering from a massive infection. But many experts say there’s no reason to get what is essentially an invasive treatment unless a doctor recommends it.

“IV hydration is a great thing for people who really need it,” says Robert H. Shmerling, M.D., senior faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing, who has researched IV therapy. “When it comes to these IVs on demand, the short answer is, ‘Buyer beware.’ They are expensive and not clearly helpful in any scientific, proven way.”

While it’s true that an IV can hydrate you faster than drinking fluids by mouth, Shmerling says, “that doesn’t necessarily translate into any kind of health benefit.”

One review study published in the journal Sports Health found no evidence that IV fluid administered to athletes enhanced performance or helped them rehydrate any better than oral fluids.

“If you’re able to drink fluids — and your digestive system is working — that’s the best way to get them,” Shmerling says.

If you’re too sick or elderly to keep up with your body’s need for fluids by drinking, then you should be in a medical facility, he adds.

Not regulated by the FDA

The claims for IV therapy go beyond simple hydration, however. At most clinics, you can choose from a selection of concoctions, depending on your goal. There are different cocktails to cure a hangover, boost the immune system, improve energy, help with workout recovery, treat jet lag, improve skin, remove toxins and reverse the signs of aging.

There is little evidence to back any of those benefits, Shmerling says, and the clinics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. “The marketing has gotten way out ahead of the science.”

In fact, most clinics include some variation of this disclaimer on their website and in marketing materials: “The services provided have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. … Any designations or references to therapies are for marketing purposes only.”

One of the few controlled clinical studies that looked at IV vitamin therapy compared to a placebo found that patients with fibromyalgia reported less tenderness and pain after receiving a specific infusion called a Myers’ Cocktail, a mix of magnesium, calcium, and vitamins C and B invented by a physician named John Myers.

But here’s the catch: Patients in the study who were injected with just saline solution reported the same positive results — a sign of “a strong placebo effect,” the study’s authors wrote.

Other risks abound

If you decide to try IV therapy, make sure you’re getting the treatment in a safe, clean environment. Also ask who will be administering your IV and how much experience they have, Torbati advises.

Because you are getting a needle placed in your arm, there is a chance of pain or bruising or, in rare cases, infection or inflammation of the vein. Older patients tend to have smaller veins, so placing an IV in someone over age 65 is more difficult than in a younger person. “The more frail and medically complex you are, the more cautious I would be about trying these things,” Torbati says.

It’s also important to ask exactly what substances will be going into your body.

Some drips have anti-inflammatory or anti-nausea medications that could cause an allergic reaction or interact with drugs a patient is currently taking, Torbati says. Other infusions include prescription drugs such as ketorolac and lidocaine that could lead to life-threatening adverse effects in some patients, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.  

In 2018, supermodel Kendall Jenner was hospitalized after a bad reaction to a Myers’ Cocktail vitamin IV drip, according to news reports.

The takeaway

Although IV drips are low risk for most healthy people, medical experts generally recommend against them — mostly because they’re expensive and unnecessary. The cost of a vitamin drip ranges from a $79 first-time special at some clinics to hundreds of dollars for a special cocktail delivered to your home by a mobile provider.

“There’s nothing magical about getting vitamins in an IV,” Torbati says. “If you want extra nutrition, take a vitamin. If you have a headache, take a Motrin. Instead of spending hundreds on an IV, you can spend a nickel on a pill and get the same benefit.”

Michelle Crouch is a contributing writer who has covered health and personal finance for some of the nation’s top consumer publications. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, Prevention, The Washington Post and The New York Times.​