IV Drip Bars Are a Hot Trend, But Are They Safe?

V drip therapy
Is an IV drip really the best way to cure a hangover or get your vitamin fix? Sandy Jones/Getty Images/HowStuffWorks

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The wellness industry is, by all accounts, a booming business (to the tune of $4.2 trillion globally, as of 2017). One of the latest trends to hit the market features a surprising method: intravenous (IV) vitamin therapy. Yep, you heard that right: IV drips.

Anyone who has spent time in a hospital will be familiar with IV fluid drips, which are bags containing medication or a combination of fluids like saline, sugar, vitamins and electrolytes. These drips are used for a variety of medical reasons, but most commonly to treat dehydration, though, traditionally, children are more likely to receive IV drips for dehydration than adults. A trained health professional will insert a needle or IV line into the patient's vein to allow them to receive fluids from the bag via a catheter tube.

IV vitamin therapy was the creation of Dr. John Myers, whose "Myers' Cocktail" of vitamins and minerals left his regular patients better able to deal with chronic medical conditions. In a 2002 article in the journal Alternative Medicine Review, Dr. Alan R. Gaby wrote that he took over care of Myers' patients following the doctor's death. Gaby concocted a modified Myers Cocktail – a combination of magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin C – that he touted as having been effective in treating everything from migraines and seasonal allergies to more severe conditions such as fibromyalgia and heart disease.

IV Therapy Hits the Mainstream

But with ringing endorsements in recent years from celebrities like Adele, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen, IV therapy has hit the mainstream, as customers seek remedies for everyday ailments like dehydration, exhaustion, jet lag and even hangovers – outside of the traditional hospital setting. Some just want glowing skin and believe that a regular intravenous dose of vitamins will do the trick.

Customers are going to centers known colloquially as "drip bars," where they can receive IV drips specifically tailored to whatever they're craving: a beauty boost, a hangover remedy or a dose of vitamin C to improve immunity against the common cold. For some, IV therapy is a one-time fix for a night of too many margaritas or a stressful week in which you may have not hydrated properly. For others, it's a regular method of treatment they use to improve their overall well-being.

For even greater convenience, customers can order in-home IV treatments or mobile IV on demand, where a team of trained medical professionals like nurses will come directly to your doorstep to administer the IV drip in the comfort of your home. IV therapy is also known as "nutrient therapy" or "hydration therapy" and as flu season gets underway, more patrons are flocking to this ad hoc treatment.

Is IV Drip Therapy Safe?

But is this practice safe? And can't you just take oral supplements? Why battle with needles or waste time on expensive treatments (IV therapy packages commonly run between $150-$250) if you can merely pop some over-the-counter pills and get your vitamin fix that way?

A June 2018 article on Healthline.com notes that while patients consuming vitamins orally may only absorb up to 50 percent of the vitamin's contents, patients receiving vitamins through an IV can absorb up to 90 percent of nutrients. However, a study published Jan. 31, 2019 in the New England Journal of Medicine details the results of IV therapy on adults being treated for bone and joint infections in the U.K., in which oral antibiotic treatment was not actually inferior to IV treatment for these patients. The study also concluded that "intravenous therapy is associated with substantial risks, inconvenience, and higher costs than oral therapy." But it’s worth stressing that this study pertains to antibiotic treatments and not vitamin therapy. Plus, different types of drugs were used in the study’s IV and oral treatments. So, it’s safe to say that a shot of vitamins directly into the bloodstream is likely more effective than an oral solution.

Although IV drips are generally safe, potential complications can arise, such as IV infiltration, which occurs when fluids from the IV drip accidentally seep into surrounding tissues. So it's worth talking to your doctor about whether you want to seek an IV treatment if it's not medically necessary or explicitly recommended.

And, lastly: Is IV therapy really worth the $200 price tag? That's up to you to decide. As Robert H. Shmerling, MD writes in the Harvard Health blog: "While patient empowerment is generally a good thing, IV fluids on demand may not be the best example. Some of these services are much more about making money for those providing the service than delivering a product that's good for your health."