Dear Dietitian – Does intravenous vitamin therapy work?

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Published Thursday, April 25, 2019
PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
by Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Dietitian,

My girlfriend has been getting IV vitamin therapy and says she feels great.  She insists I give it a try, but I want to know more before I join her. What do you think?


Dear Kat,

Intravenous (IV) vitamin therapies, also called IV cocktails, are available in high-end spas, places called drip bars, and some clinics. These infusions offer a variety of nutrients from vitamins and minerals to antioxidants to amino acids (the building blocks of protein). They do not require a prescription, so you basically walk in and select the nutrient infusion you want, put your money down, and enjoy as the nutrients infuse into your vein. 

The cost of these therapies varies from about $65 per infusion in the Midwest to $200 in California and New York.  They claim to do everything from cure a hangover to boost your immune system to make you look younger. Some make unproven claims to cure or prevent diseases. In September of 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in Texas took action against a drip bar for making a range of "deceptive and unsupported health claims" about their ability to treat serious diseases, such as cancer and congestive heart failure. The FTC order prevents the company from making such future claims unless they can be supported by scientific evidence.

Are these IV vitamins a good idea?  The argument for using intravenous nutrients rather than getting them from your food or a vitamin supplement is that your body will absorb higher amounts from the blood compared to the digestive tract. While this may be true, these infusions provide way more nutrients than your body needs.  Your body will absorb the amount it needs at that time, then release the rest in your urine.  This is your body's way of protecting itself from vitamin and mineral toxicities. Essentially, you are flushing a lot of money down the toilet!

What your friend may be experiencing is the placebo effect.  This is when someone experiences a beneficial effect from a treatment that cannot be attributed to the scientific properties of the therapy, and therefore, must be due to the belief that the therapy is working.  Recently, I experienced a placebo effect while drinking flavored water purchased at the grocery store.  I was walking around feeling pretty healthy and proud of myself when I remembered an article I had recently written on naturally-flavored waters. There is nothing on the label that explains what the natural flavor is. Is it squeezed from a ripe berry or made in a lab?  What makes this water better for me than the tap water in my kitchen? Nothing.

While vitamin and mineral deficiencies do occur in the US, they are rare in healthy people. Deficiencies are typically found in the elderly and those with certain diseases or clinical conditions. 

Another cause for concern with IV nutrient infusions is the fact that most of these treatments are given by unlicensed professionals with little or no medical training. Risks include infection at the IV site, blood clots, and vein inflammation. Worse yet, an infection could enter your bloodstream and spread throughout your body requiring hospitalization.

If you think you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, talk to your doctor.  A simple blood test will determine if you need to take a supplement. Until then, your money is better spent on fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Good health to you!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, scientifically-based nutrition.  Do you have a nutrition question?  Email her at deardietitian411@gmail.comtoday. may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase products or services through links in an article. Prices, when displayed, are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time. Commissions do not influence editorial independence.

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