Can IV Drips Really Help Treat Your Fatigue, Low Vitamin Levels and Hangover?

We asked experts if this trend is a waste of your money—and whether it's safe.

IV therapy. Drip bars. Energy shots. Immune injections. Nutrient…bags? Whatever you want to call them—there are myriad marketing approaches—you’ve probably seen spas, clinics and wellness lounges offering intravenous injections of various vitamins and minerals, mixed with saline, that make all sorts of promises. You can increase your energy levels, reduce fatigue, improve cognitive function and memory or remove toxins from the body. Some formulations claim to relieve anxiety, depression or chronic headaches while improving your skin and delivering anti-aging benefits, all for anywhere from $165 to $900 a bag. You don’t necessarily need a medical prescription, and you don’t need a blood test beforehand—often, just a consult with a naturopathic doctor and a sense that it might help with whatever’s ailing you.

The trend is not new—the IV Lounge, at the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre in the city’s Yorkville neighbourhood, opened almost 10 years ago—but more and more retail spaces like this are popping up. At Formula Fig, a spa-like outfit with lush, millennial-green decor and locations in Toronto and Vancouver, the focus is on 30-minute facials and skincare treatments, but you can also get an IV drip ($165) while sitting under an LED therapy light.

“Drips are no longer a trend—they may be here for good,” says naturopathic doctor Amauri Caversan, who founded the IV Lounge. “At first they were mainly used by athletes, stars and wealthy patients. But today I would say IV therapy has become a lot more mainstream.”

Caversan is biased, of course—charging for intravenous vitamins is part of his business model—but he’s also totally right: I wouldn’t have known that IV drips were even a thing if it wasn’t for social media. After I saw one American influencer claim her chronic iron deficiency had been treated with an IV infusion, my curiosity was piqued: I’ve been iron deficient since age 17, and I’m terrible at taking the iron pills my doctors have repeatedly suggested. Could an IV drip help me?

As it turns out, you really shouldn’t take medical inspiration from former Bachelorette contestants you follow on Instagram. If you’re truly iron deficient, and a trial of oral supplementation doesn’t work for you, a registered MD could prescribe iron infusions in a medical setting, like a hospital. But, in Canada, you can’t get iron in an IV bag at a drip bar or lounge.

Caversan explained to me that an IV treatment containing saline and electrolytes can help you rehydrate after drinking too much alcohol or after extreme exercise. And many people seek IV nutrients simply for the highly unscientific promises of “boosting” or “supporting” their immune systems, especially in a world with COVID.

“These therapies are aimed at amorphous ailments people have: fatigue, general malaise, lack of energy,” says Timothy Caulfield, author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness. It’s very subjective, he points out. “There’s this idea that getting an IV drip is going to help your immune system, and there’s no evidence to support that.” Caulfield, a health and science policy professor at the University of Alberta who studies health misinformation and the public representations of science, has been examining the growth of IV therapy for years, and has tried it a few times himself.

“Celebrities will post images of themselves getting an IV injection and then you start to see this wave of interest, and it’s incredibly frustrating because…regardless of who you’re getting it from, whether it’s an MD, a naturopath or some wellness guru at your local mall, it’s pseudoscientific nonsense.” What you’re really paying for, Caulfield says, is “an injection of magical thinking,” and there’s no biological mechanism that would actually support those claims.

“The claims around IV nutrition are certainly pseudoscientific,” agrees Michelle Cohen, a family doctor in Brighton, Ont. and an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University. She writes and tweets about wellness trends and has a particular interest in debunking alternative health claims. “There’s this idea that you can get better nutrition through an IV than simply through your gut, which is the way we were designed, or evolved, to absorb nutrition,” Cohen says. “Your average person does not need to have an IV to get adequate nutrition.”

The risks of IV therapy shouldn’t be ignored either, says Cohen. “You may have an allergic reaction to whatever it is that you’re being injected with, and it’s not necessarily the synthetic vitamins, but maybe some preservative product [in the mix]. You also don’t know if the treatment is going to conflict with any medication that you might already be on,” she adds.

Is it possible to overdose on these vitamins, I wondered? Not exactly, says Cohen. “You reach a certain point where the water-soluble vitamins contained in these drips can’t be absorbed by your blood. Your kidneys are constantly doing the job of filtering your blood…and getting rid of things you don’t need.” So if you’re suddenly taking in a mega-dose of vitamins through an IV, she says, most of it is just going to get dumped out.

Next: I Got an IV Drip to See If It Could Boost My Energy Levels 

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada