Why would you need high-dose vitamins pumped directly into a vein?
She’s a partner at her law firm, has an exhausting travel schedule and two boys under the age of 10. When Yana Shapiro is run down from managing all that–and feels a cold coming on—she books an appointment for an infusion of water, vitamins and minerals.
“Anything to avoid antibiotics or being out of commission,” the 37 year old said.
After getting a 100-milligram drip called “immunity protection” pumped directly into her bloodstream, Shapiro says she feels like a “new person.” The infusion takes less than a half hour and while she waits, she can recline in one of the cushy theater seats, watch the 64-inch LCD TV or dim the lights in the room.
“I take this time as me time to relax and kick back, and close my eyes for a couple of minutes,” she said.
Shapiro’s IV infusion spot is RestoreIV in Philadelphia. There are similar businesses in New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Santa Monica and Dallas with names like “The Remedy Room” and “Hangover Heaven.” The first wave of companies launched in party cities where you can get the treatment in a mobile van parked at a music fest, or in your hotel room.
Newer companies offer a menu of drips to help balance hormones, detox, improve chronic conditions or turn up your “glow.”
Osteopathic medicine physician Jason Hartman says people want that experience. Hartman, whose specialty is using touch to diagnose and treat patients, launched RestoreIV in the same space as his Philadelphia integrative medicine practice. He sometimes helps people with a hangover, but his business also includes people with serious, diagnosed illnesses including chronic fatigue and migraines. For those patients, he says IV treatment “supports” healing. Other patients are generally healthy and want to stay that way.
Hartman says it’s lifestyle management.
“There’s definitely a moment happening here,” Hartman said. “We are a bigger, better, faster culture. I want to be a better me, you want to be a better you.” The IV therapy trend reflects that, said Hartman, whose patients include professional athletes on the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.
The basic IV therapy cocktail includes vitamin C, zinc, b-vitamins, and if you have a headache, the doctor might add a little magnesium.
“These are your natural pharmacy, and in chronic diseases these things can be depleted—with just a stressful lifestyle, and if they become deficient enough, it alters your internal pharmacology enough to possibly manifest as a symptom or disease,” Hartman said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates vitamins and other dietary supplements, but different from medication, vitamin oversight comes after a product is on the market. The promised benefits of IV therapy vary from company to company. And at the bottom of the Web site for The Hangover Club, you’ll find this familiar warning: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This service is intended only for healthy adults.”
Like any skin puncture, IV infusion comes with a small risk of infection, or bruising and bleeding if you miss the vein.
Hartman says for a few minutes after a treatment he feels a little loopy, like he’s had a glass of wine. His patient Yana Shapiro said: “I can feel the Vitamin C in my mouth, it’s that citrusy taste that you feel automatically as the IV goes in.”
She gets an immediate boost that lasts through the day, and says she feels a bit more ‘up’ for the next few days. High-dose IV vitamins fit into Shapiro’s belief in natural cures, but she also has a separate, traditional primary care doctor.
“I’ve never consulted her about this, this is something that I took up on my own just like any homeopathic remedy that I’ve taken,” Shapiro said.
Treatments cost from $150 to $200, and at RestoreIV there’s an initial $35 fee to consult with the doctor. The business doesn’t accept health insurance; patients pay the doctor’s office directly. Shapiro uses money from her health savings account, the same way others people dip into an HSA to pay for contact lenses or acupuncture.
“It’s absolutely worth it for me,” Shapiro said.
But if you mostly eat your kale and quinoa, why would you need a boost of vitamins delivered straight to a vein? Skeptical doctors say you probably don’t: a healthy gut takes in the nutrients we need.
If IV infusion makes people feel better, Ather Ali suspects it’s a placebo effect.
“When your child falls down and scrapes their knee you give them a kiss, there’s value in that whether or not there’s clinical trial data showing that giving a kiss is better than doing nothing,” said Ali, a doctor of naturopathic medicine and health researcher at the Yale School of Medicine.
The placebo phenomenon is more complicated than just giving a patient a dummy-sugar tablet. Ali says offering an invasive placebo–like an IV–can have a stronger effect than a pill.
“It’s the idea of context and ritual and coming to a doctor and feeling reassured and paying money,” he said.
Ali and colleagues tested an IV treatment called the Myer’s Cocktail–on nearly 40 people with fibromyalgia–a syndrome that causes muscle pain and fatigue—and can be hard to treat. Half the study participants got IV vitamins–the other half got a saline solution without vitamins.
“The interesting finding was that everyone got better,” Ali said.
People reported less pain, and said they were better able to do the things they need to do everyday.
If a treatment is helping someone and there’s nothing else available, that may be a reason to use it–even if the ‘fix’ is 100 percent placebo effect, Ali said. But he does not offer high-dose intravenous vitamins in his complementary and integrative medicine practice at Yale. Ali said he can’t ethically recommend the treatment for healthy patients.
“If people are just using it to feel good or for energy boost I would just say go exercise for 30 minutes and you’ll get more out of that,” he said.
If you do try it, believers and non-believers say someone should ask about your medical history–before the needle goes in.