Remember when your local barista started trading old-school squeezed orange like an apothecary? Juice bars have been dishing out high-dose, high-potency elixirs for years. They serve you ginger shots as an anti-flu booster. Spoon-sized amounts of spirulina against cell damage. And wheatgrass liquid, so rich in vitamins and nutrients it will make your cells sing.
Now doctors have turned the trend around. They offer highly concentrated vitamin shots like a verified juice vendor. But to make sure you really get the most out of their potent serums, they inject them straight into your bloodstream.
Hangover cure, energy boost: an IV drip for all occasions.
Intravenous (IV) vitamin drips are all the rage in medical practices and health spas. From the US to South Africa, specialist ‘vitamin bars’ have popped up with a range of therapeutic blends that rival the menu of urban juiceries. These infusions – aptly named ‘Hangover Recovery’, ‘Energy Boost’ or ‘Skin Radiance’ – feature a long list of health benefits. They promise to cure your hangover, shorten your jetlag and fight fatigue, depression and a dull complexion. They can even boost your immune defence, your sports performance and your sexual prowess.
In the past few years, we’ve seen plenty of lifestyle drugs and treatments (remember oxygen bars?) that sounded intriguing, but eventually turned out to be fads. So what should we make of IV drips? Do they work better than a kale smoothie from the health food shop? And for whom? At prices between $80 and over $300 for a single IV vitamin drip, these treatments better deliver.
Drips bypass the gut. That means less vitamin waste down the pipes.
IV Infusion Vitamin Therapy is the most effective method of getting a big and customised dose of nutrients into your body fast. Everything we eat and drink – whether it’s freshly squeezed lemon juice or vitamin supplements – has to journey through your stomach, your gut and your liver before its nutritional content enters your blood.
Vitamin drips take a shortcut. They bypass the gastrointestinal tract and push nutrients directly into your veins, spreading and nourishing all the cells of your body faster.
A drip can also infuse your blood with much larger amounts of vitamins than it can normally handle. You could devour a whole cup of vitamin powder, but most of its goodness would end up flushed away – your body’s tolerance to digest large quantities of nutrients at once is limited.
Medical experts say the average person can absorb just 4 to 10 grams of vitamin C in the conventional way – through the mouth. When a nurse empties a whole bag of vitamin C through a needle into your arm, its concentration in the blood can be 50 to 100 times higher.
It sounds like a tip from a life hacker bible: ‘just a little prick’ and you can replenish your body’s nutrient storage to the brim.
Vitamin drips are the power version of B12 shots.
The concept is far from new. Many people are already used to shots of B12, a vitamin found in red meat. Doctors administer vitamin B12 injections as a pick-me-up against fatigue, anxiety and stress. Corporate executives, athletes, popstars and vegetarians love this kind of quick performance fix.
IV vitamin drips are the power version of B12 shots. They don’t just inject single nutrients randomly into your body. Rather, they precision-feed you a customised cocktail of (mostly) natural substances dissolved in a carrier solution, usually sterile water or saline.
Since none of the nutrient juice is wasted on muscles or your gut, vitamin drips have a 100% hit rate (pharmacists call it bioavailability, which is the degree at which the active ingredient of a drug enters the blood system). This compares to bioavailability rates of as low as 10% for synthetic over-the-counter nutritional supplements, according to Dr Vanessa Ingraham, a New-Zealand-based specialist in anti-ageing and regenerative medicine various experts.
Drips don’t guarantee that every vitamin will be processed. Your body will still seize the next toilet break to get rid of any excess goodness it cannot immediately use. But a drip makes sure more vitamins enter the bloodstream in the first place.
Some more botanicals and antioxidants anyone?
Common ingredients on the drip menu of American IV vitamin bars include vitamin C and vitamin B complex (thiamine, riboflavin, nicotinamide, pyridoxine, d-Panthenol) and iron. Depending on the desired effect, drips also contain minerals such as magnesium (against hangover cramps and headaches), calcium, selenium and zinc, amino acids, botanicals, and antioxidants such as glutathione (for smooth, spotless skin) and botanicals.
In other countries, IV vitamin therapy may also contain stem cells, says Dr Ingraham. A typical drip session lasts around half an hour.
The hottest shot in the drip bar: Dr Myer’s Cocktail.
Here’s a trivia fact from the vitamin bar: if Negroni is the current drink classic on rooftops from New York to Dubai, the Myer’s Cocktail is the world’s most popular vitamin drip. Just don’t add ice cubes.
An American physician called Dr John Myers developed the mother of all IV vitamin drips in the 1970s as an experimental alternative treatment for his private medical patients. The people who came to see him in his practice suffered from fatigue or depression, chest pain or migraine. Many became regular takers of his cocktail – a mix of vitamin B and C, magnesium, phosphate, calcium and more.
While the alleged health benefits of the Myer’s Cocktail and other IV vitamin drips have yet to be backed up by authoritative research (the existing scientific evidence is sparse), thousands of patients continue to swear by their healing powers. Numerous Hollywood stars have been spotted with vitamin infusions hooked to their arms.
Spoiler alert: it could be a placebo.
Dr Alan Gaby, a US physicist who treated several of Myer’s original patients for years, says the nutrient cocktail has been effective in treating a variety of conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, weight loss, migraine, headaches, asthma, muscle spasms, acute infections, seasonal allergies, stress and insomnia.
Some of those who have tried vitamin drips say they felt heatwaves flushing through their body. Others say they felt instantly more alert and energised and could see colours sharper, ‘as if someone had turned the lights on’. Experts agree you can feel the effect of IV vitamin drips immediately. No surprises here – they hit you right in the bloodstream.
Sceptics, however, say there could be a placebo effect at play. They argue the treatments are so pricey (don’t expect your health fund to pitch in) that people will gladly imagine all sorts of mumbo jumbo to happen to them.
Could you benefit from IV vitamin therapy?
Normal healthy adults should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a balanced diet of fruit and vegetables. Nutritionists stand united on that front. However, in our fast-paced world many people lack nutrients due to poor diet and lifestyle choices, excessive stress or chronic illness, says New Zealand’s Dr Ingraham. These people can all benefit from IV vitamin drips.
Athletes habitually use vitamin drip infusions to boost their performance. Doctors also use these drips to improve the immune defence of cancer patients and to treat people with autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease and Lupus. Intravenous nutrients are also a hospital staple for patients who are too sick to eat.
Some drips act like an anti-ageing tonic.
Then there’s the large group of people who are simply craving a feel-good kick after a booze-filled night out or after running a marathon. They use IV vitamin therapy for speedy rehydration, to relieve stress, rejuvenate, rid their body of toxins, balance hormones and improve the clarity of their skin.
Some drips resemble a natural anti-ageing tonic. Nutrients like vitamin E and glutathione, known as antioxidants, can flatten wrinkles, plump up the skin and sprinkle some youthful glow over your face.
Pregnant? Allergies? Better give it a miss.
Sitting in a medi-spa with a needle in your skin and a drip bag over your head may not match your idea of a wellness-focused pampering package. Personal preference aside, IV vitamin therapy is not for everyone.
Who should give the vitamin binge a miss? Doctors advise pregnant women avoid the treatment because no one has yet explored how unborn babies handle Mum’s visit at the vitamin bar. People with kidney issues should also be careful. Their bodies may not tolerate the massive amount of fluid and electrolytes, (aka salt and minerals).
If you’re the type of person who gets panicky at the sight of preservatives, flavour enhancers and anti-caking agents on food labels, you’ll want to study the drip fine print as well. People with known sensitivities against preservatives could develop a severe allergic response known as anaphylactic shock – although preservative-free drip formulas exist. Plus, professional clinics screen new customers for existing health problems that could cause an adverse reaction.
Yes, you can do too much of a good thing.
There’s a sweet spot for everything in life. Too much chocolate makes you sick, and the same goes for vitamins.
The British Nutrition Foundation warns you could torpedo your health by trying to do ‘too much of a good thing’. Excessive amounts of vitamin A, for example, can damage your liver and bones.
What are the common side effects of IV vitamin therapy?
To make sure you feel better – not worse – after an IV vitamin treatment, choose a reputable clinic or health spa. The IV vitamin bar of your choice should employ medical professionals, not just some dude serving you a White Russian.
Even the drip pros can’t spare you from minor side effects. Some people feel light-headed, hungry or thirsty after the vitamin boost. Some bruise where the needle enters their skin. And the extra lucky get to marvel at the exceptionally fluorescent yellow of their own urine.
So what’s the skin-boosting magic in vitamin drips?
Let’s get into the science. We all need vitamins and minerals to be happy and look radiant. Too much stress, sun, city traffic and takeaway food weigh on our health. And it shows on our faces – our skin gets wrinkly and pimply and we start to look older than we are.
Certain vitamin cocktails promise to return our youthful glow. They nourish our wellbeing from the inside out. To understand their magic, it pays to understand how skin damage happens in the first place.
Alcohol, smog, sunlight – how your skin gets damaged…
The air around us is full of harmful stuff, and most of it is invisible to the naked eye. UV rays from the sun cause sunburn, dark spots and even cancer. Bad air from road traffic and industrial fumes also make our skin age faster, as a growing amount of studies shows.
Tiny airborne particles laced with chemicals and toxins penetrate our pores and damage deeper skin layers. For example, cigarette smoke and the smog gas ‘ozone’ are known to deplete skin of vitamin C and E. These two vitamins are well-known antioxidants. Think of them as a special force in our bodies that neutralises free radicals – tiny airborne molecules, which attack the skin and damage cells. When your antioxidant levels are depleted, free radicals can take the upper hand. Experts call this harmful imbalance ‘oxidative stress’.
…and how vitamins can counter the skin stress.
IV vitamin drips can counter the effects of oxidative stress when they are rich in antioxidants including gluthatione and vitamin C, says Dr Ingraham. All antioxidants help to repair your skin and erase unwanted signs of ageing.
Some vitamins and plant compounds are a perfect match for healthy skin. Look out for these in IV drips, in your food and your facial creams, mists or gels:
Vitamin E and C. Rally your skin’s defences and top up on these two vitamins. They are powerful antioxidants that fend off free radicals before they can damage your skin.
Vitamin C (the flu fighter found in Grandma’s hot lemon recipe) also repairs and rejuvenates by boosting your cells’ collagen storage for plump and elastic skin.
Vitamin E (naturally found in almonds and dried apricots) disarms harmful UV rays that give you dark spots and wrinkles. It’s also an anti-inflammatory.
Retinoic acid is the active form of vitamin A in the skin. Leading US dermatologists consider retinoic acid the ‘gold standard’ in anti-ageing skincare because it can restore the elastic fibres that keep skin taut and wrinkle-free.
- Vitamin K helps the body heal wounds and bruises. It’s also a secret weapon against stretch marks, spider veins, scars, dark spots, and stubborn circles under your eyes.
Juice bar or health spa – where should you get your vitamin kick?
Keen to order a Myer’s Cocktail just to see what happens? It may be the extra shot of nutrients your body needs to fight jetlag, cure a hangover or smooth your surfaces. Still, many health experts think IV vitamin therapy is overrated. A fruit salad and a run in the park may give you a cheaper energy boost and rosy cheeks. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.