Are Intravenous Vitamin Drips Safe, and Do They Work?

Intravenous (IV) vitamin drips are popular among health enthusiasts looking to boost general health and wellness or treat specific conditions. Most IV drips contain high doses of single vitamins or a bend of vitamins and minerals to boost the immune system, improve the skin or digestion, or fight fatigue or chronic illnesses. But do they work? Are they safe? Read on to learn about the pros and cons of IV vitamin drips.

Key takeaways:
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    Myers Cocktail and high-dose vitamin C are two of the most popular IV vitamin drips.
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    IV vitamin drips are recommended for general wellness or specific conditions like migraines, and fatigue, or as an add-on therapy for cancer.
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    In all these cases, IV vitamin drips are prescribed off-label, as the FDA has not approved the IV drips to prevent or treat these medical conditions.
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    These injections do not replace a healthy, well-balanced diet but can be used in addition to vitamin-rich foods. Your diet is still the best source of vitamins.
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    Although they have a good safety profile, certain side effects may occur.

Although it is well known that diet is the best source of vitamins, many people do not consume enough vitamin-rich foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Oral supplements are usually next in line to fill the gaps and avoid nutrient deficiencies. Then there is another option: IV vitamin drips.

Naturopaths and doctors specializing in alternative medicine typically offer this type of therapy. When undergoing an IV drip with vitamins, the body receives higher amounts of nutrients, as the estimated absorption is around 90%. When taken by mouth, only about 50% of the vitamins are absorbed, because the nutrients are broken down in the digestive tract.

There are two main types of IV vitamin drips: Myers Cocktail, which includes a blend of vitamins B, C, magnesium, and calcium, and a single vitamin C in high doses.

The Myers’ cocktail

The first IV vitamin drips were developed and administered by Dr. John Myers (creator of the Myers’ Cocktail) in the late 1960s. He noted significant improvement in his patients with asthma attacks, migraines, fatigue, fibromyalgia, muscle spasms, respiratory infections, chronic sinusitis, allergies, heart diseases, and other chronic illnesses. Dr. Myers recommended this therapy regularly – from twice weekly to monthly infusions, for many years.

During the past few decades, more doctors started to follow Dr. Myers’ protocol, and plenty of successful case studies were documented at medical conferences. Although many anecdotal reports support this therapy as safe and effective, there is very little research published in scientific journals. This means that the efficacy of this treatment is not exactly known.

The most reported side effect is a sensation of heat. If the infusion is given too quickly, it can lead to low blood pressure. The calcium found in Myers’ cocktail may cause abnormal heart rhythm in those who have heart diseases. There have been some reports of anaphylactic reactions to vitamin B1 (thiamine).

The cost should also be considered. Insurance companies in the US do not typically cover the treatment, and one infusion typically costs around $200.

Vitamin C

IV vitamin C injections (brand name Ascor) are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat vitamin C deficiency. Injectable vitamin C is also approved to help manage severe wounds and burns.

However, IV vitamin C is mostly used off-label for things like cancer, critically ill individuals, weight loss, and viral infections.

In the 1970s, researchers started to use vitamin C for cancer management, and currently, this therapy is being evaluated for different types of cancer including pancreatic, ovarian, colorectal, prostate, lung, and brain cancer. Scientists suggest that vitamin C works by boosting the immune system, destroying the cancer cells without damaging the healthy cells. Furthermore, vitamin C may help reduce the side effects of cancer drugs.

When used in critically ill patients in the hospital, vitamin C was found to reduce the risk of death. IV vitamin C has also been researched either alone or as an add-on therapy to help manage viral infections like flu, herpes zoster infections, and COVID-19. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

Although it is considered to have a good safety profile, high doses of vitamin C can increase the risk of kidney stones and may interact with certain drugs, including fluphenazine, mexiletine, and magnesium salicylate. Individuals with an inherited disorder called G6PD deficiency and those who have hemochromatosis should not receive high-dose IV vitamin C.

IV vitamin C is not covered by insurance, and the cost per infusion is between $225–$300. Multiple infusions are recommended.

Additional side effects

Although most of the time an IV vitamin infusion will not cause any problems, any intravenous therapy, whether it involves vitamins, prescription drugs, or saline water, carries a few potential risks. IV infusions can cause pain at the site of the injection, bleeding, damage to the vein and surrounding tissue, air embolism (air bubbles that can enter the vein and travel to the lungs or heart), and blood clots. It is important to work with an experienced healthcare professional trained in IV therapy to minimize these risks associated with IV therapy.

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