Do Direct-Access IV Infusions Offer Health and Wellness Benefits?
CU Anschutz scientist says there’s more hype than evidence
5 minute read
Written by Guest Contributor on May 25, 2023
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
On-demand IVs are available at the local strip mall and even in your home, but are they effective?
Fighting off a nasty headache after your cousin’s wedding? Stomach virus have you feeling fatigued? Gearing up for tomorrow’s half-marathon? Many of us might be tempted to pop into an “IV bar” to seek relief from minor ailments or to prep for an upcoming event.
Direct-access infusion businesses offer intravenous (IV) solutions without a medical visit or doctor’s prescription, often touting wide-ranging health and wellness benefits. From cities big and small to ski towns and party destinations, IV bars are popping up in more locations. This raises the question, ‘Does non-medically necessary IV therapy work and is it safe?’
We asked Travis Nemkov, PhD, assistant research professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, to weigh in. His lab focuses on metabolism, the chemical processes that occur in our bodies to keep us alive and functioning. This work includes studying how things get into the bloodstream and what happens once it’s in there.
Hospitals and other acute-care settings have been using IV infusions and IV therapy for around a century. Why has it become common practice?
IV therapy works quite well for obvious medical applications, such as to accelerate acute or emergency care, to manage chronic health problems, or to correct nutrient deficiencies. It’s the fastest, most efficient delivery method to distribute vital fluids and nutrients throughout your body. IVs have a demonstrated benefit because they work intravascularly, bypassing the gastrointestinal tract and going straight to the bloodstream. Some patients are unable to drink water, eat or swallow and others may need fluids, nutrients or medications faster than their bodies can metabolize them.
What can you tell us about IV therapy services offered outside of medical practices?
Direct-access infusion businesses like IV bars, “drip bars” or mobile IV services that come to you mostly target consumers’ desires to increase energy and hydration or speed up recovery. They usually offer a broad menu, typically a combination of fluids and vitamins mixed with a saline solution. A staff member inserts the IV, using a small needle in a catheter, into a vein. A session can take 30 minutes to an hour and average pricing can start around $100 and go up from there.
Some of these businesses even offer memberships.
It’s a brilliant business strategy, but I don’t think we clearly know if it is good for you or useful to regularly be poked and prodded to make sought-after improvements.
Are non-medical IVs safe?
Individuals with heart and kidney disease should avoid these types of non-medically necessary treatments, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should talk to their doctor first.
For other consumers, I would say proceed with caution, but the overall risk as far as we know is low. Regulations for these businesses differ by state, so it’s important for consumers to do their research. Make sure you’re going to a business that has appropriate sanitary practices, uses clean needles and knows what they’re doing. Is the person who is placing your IV properly trained?
Let’s talk about some of the specific reasons someone might go to an IV bar. What’s your take on these? For dehydration?
The line is clearly drawn here. If you are severely dehydrated, an IV is going to be useful and you should probably go through traditional healthcare avenues to get to that conclusion and to receive appropriate treatment.
If you’re simply hungover, you will recover. IVs can work, but it’s cheaper to drink water and take some Advil and a multivitamin – that’s the best way to go even though it’s not a quick fix.
For athlete prep or recovery?
Studies have not found a benefit in hydration status for competitive athletes using IVs for hydration to prep or recover.
Vitamin/nutrient boosts, such as the Myers’ cocktail?
John Myers, MD, developed the well-known IV vitamin therapy that’s named after him. It contains high doses of magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin C. It’s supposed to help people with a vitamin deficiency, and there have been claims of a broad range of wellness and health benefits. There’s no published research proving the effectiveness of the Myers’ cocktail or any other high-dose IV vitamin therapy, but there is some anecdotal evidence. One study found evidence of a “placebo effect” with the Myers’ cocktail in patients with fibromyalgia. The Federal Trade Commission actually went after one Texas company for over-hyping Myers’ cocktail benefits.
Is there any basis to the potential health claims made by these businesses?
The market seems to have moved faster than the science. The budgets for these companies are going toward marketing campaigns – not much is going into understanding if the therapy really works or not. It’s always difficult to make broad conclusions. There are possible benefits in these therapies, but there has not been enough rigorous testing. Some people may benefit but the broad majority may not. Most – if not all – of the things IV bars claim to do can probably be achieved at home.
What’s your final verdict – fad or fact?
There is no clear benefit, but we humans gamble on many things. We’re also learning a lot using new technologies like metabolomics, which our lab uses to efficiently measure hundreds to thousands of blood molecules. It’s possible that these approaches may provide new supplement strategies that hadn’t been considered or thoroughly researched yet. So my overall conclusion is that IV bars are a fad with the future potential to be fact.
Guest contributor: Jessica Ennis is a contributor specializing in science and health.