Latest health fad: Vitamin drips

DR. JANE SADLER
Last updated 11:29 16/07/2013
vitamin
DRUG COCKTAIL: Vitamin-filled drips - genius cure or pure quackery?

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A concentrated-vitamin intravenous drip might not be the fountain of youth, but based on recent celebrity trends, it could become popular.

Lately, pictures of pop singer Rihanna, exhausted from multiple performances and receiving IV vitamins, have flooded the Internet. Simon Cowell is another celebrity who enjoys his treatments. He describes a warm sensation associated with receiving vitamin-rich fluid dripping into his veins.

Is this something I'll be recommending for my patients? Probably not.

The "Party Girl" IV drip diet, according to British tabloids, is an intravenous vitamin cocktail containing vitamins B and C, and minerals, magnesium and calcium. Variations include vitality, immunity and power boosters. While some people use IV vitamins to enhance their energy and health, others use it as a medical treatment or to complement mainstream medical therapy.

According to the Integrative Medical Clinic in Chicago, vitamin drips consist of nutrients that are injected intravenously, thus bypassing the digestive process. This increases nutrient absorption on the cellular level and "kick-starts" the cells to produce more energy. The Meyer's Cocktail, for example, is a nutrient blend prescribed by several holistic and medical doctors who say that this concoction treats an assortment of conditions including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), diabetes, migraines, multiple sclerosis and more. Not much research is available to substantiate these claims.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2009 reported no difference in treatment outcome for fibromyalgia, a painful muscle condition, in patients receiving eight to 16 weeks of weekly infusions of the Meyer's Cocktail vs. a placebo. But the scarcity of conclusive studies does not mean this form of treatment cannot be helpful for some medical conditions.

As physicians, we typically use IV nutrient therapy for people who have severe nutritional deficiencies due to prolonged inability to eat or absorb food. This can occur in conditions such as advanced oesophageal cancer, extensive abdominal surgeries and some cases of stroke. The vitamins and minerals infusion replaces nutrients normally present in a healthy diet.

But repeated IV vitamin infusions might result in hypervitaminosis, a condition in which vitamins become toxic because of super-high levels in the body. While excess vitamins such as vitamin C are water-soluble and excreted in urine, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) can be a problem: If given at doses of more than 200 micrograms per day, it can cause severe neurological disorders.

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Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) remain in the body and, in excessive concentrations, may become toxic to organs such as the liver, kidneys and brain. (Interestingly, the first recorded case of vitamin A toxicity was from 16th-century arctic explorer Gerrit de Veer, who described becoming gravely ill after eating vitamin A-saturated polar bear livers.)

Anyone at risk for heart disease should avoid high levels of calcium, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms, and in excess, intravenous calcium may cause severe muscle rigidity, vomiting and seizures. At NZ $160 to NZ $1,280 or more per infusion, drips aren't affordable for everyone. Close monitoring is important to ensure there are no ill effects.

This treatment reminds me of the "designer" oxygen therapy fad of the '90s. Then, as now, more is not necessarily better: Highly concentrated oxygen was found to be potentially toxic to the brain. In general, IV nutrient therapy should remain reserved for physically ill people without other options of achieving dietary support, even if the sensation of fluids entering the veins might have a significant placebo effect and people feel energised from the hydration.

For me, I will go eat my kale salad with salmon, exercise and try to get eight hours of sleep as a cheaper alternative for my health and energy.

And I will avoid polar bear livers.

- Dr. Jane Sadler is a family medicine physician on staff at Baylor Medical Centre in Texas. She blogs at healthblog.dallasnews.com.

- The Dallas Morning News

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