This blog is written by our clinicians and aims to keep patients informed with up to date information on medical conditions.
What is intravenous vitamin therapy?
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our bodies need in small amounts to work efficiently and sustain life. We cannot make all the vitamins ourselves, and therefore we have to obtain most of them in our diet providing it is healthy and comprised of a wide range of foods.
Insufficient amounts in the diet may cause deficiency diseases. Luckily, we do not need vast amounts of vitamins to survive; quite the opposite, too much of certain vitamins can cause toxicity and lead to various physical symptoms.
There are currently 13 known vitamins, and they can be either fat-soluble or water-soluble, main difference between them being that fat-soluble ones (like vitamins A, D, E and K) can stay in the body as reserves for days and months, while water –soluble vitamins (C and B groups) get excreted from the body through the urine and need to be replaced much more often (some on a daily basis).
An intravenous vitamin injection is a method when a large quantity of a vitamin or vitamins is administered in to a bloodstream directly, therefore rapidly increasing their blood concentration to either normal or elevated levels.
They are popular with celebrities, and have often been described as ‘ultimate panacea ‘i.e a cure for everything’. A simple Internet search for vitamin injections brings up thousands of hits and advertisements. There is absolutely no doubt that vitamin injections are popular and well-liked! There are claims that high doses of injected vitamins can treat and even cure serious conditions like cancer and Parkinson’s disease, as well as help to combat conditions like fibromyalgia and depression. And vitamin infusions are often promoted for healthy people, and are flaunted to be beneficial for preventing illness, stimulating immune system as well as helping problems with sleep and stress in general. Numerous popular magazines create a lot of hype and false promises promoting the vitamins for our fast-paced, hectic lives’ weakened by inadequate sleep and fuelled by fast food and caffeine’.
On the other hand, a majority of medical practitioners would argue that such vitamin infusions do not confer any added health benefits. So how do we separate facts from the fiction and decide who is right and who is wrong?
The fashion for the infusions dates back few decades and was originated in the USA- first for vitamins C, and then the trend followed to include other vitamins and minerals to create a ‘cocktail for health’.
But despite all the hype, there is no credible robust scientific evidence to suggest that routine vitamin infusions are necessary or offer any meaningful and long-lasting health benefit. There are some reports of cases where they have been beneficial, however no-one so far has been able to prove it to a reliable extent by conducting proper scientific studies. Yes, there is a place for injectable vitamins in medicine, for example when vitamins like B12 or iron are used to treat true deficiencies, and some IV vitamins are also often used in the acute setting (when they administered to sick patients in order to prevent organ damage, or patients who are too unwell to eat and require intravenous nutrients to prevent severe deficiency). In this cases vitamin injections are vital to keep people alive and correct any potential detrimental effects of the deficiencies. However there is no medical reason to infuse vitamins into a vein when one can obtain those nutrients in the diet. I agree that some patients may report feeling ‘much better’ and talk about experiencing increased amounts of energy following an IV vitamin drip- but that could be put down to a simple short-lasting rehydration effect of the infusion itself and an induced placebo-effect (a patient’s strong belief in treatment producing a desired effect). And do not forget the fact that for some vitamins, their excess in the blood will be excreted in the urine almost within 24hours.
Potential risks and side effects
It is well-known that excess vitamins can be harmful. For example, large quantities of fat-soluble vitamins A and E that are stored in the tissues rather than excreted, can cause organ damage. Therefore, there are established guidelines and reference ranges of the safe oral intake of such nutrients; while the same cannot be said about people receiving IV vitamin therapies (especially on a regular basis). There is no way of knowing how much of a vitamin is truly is getting absorbed and to what level it will rise in the blood, gets stored in the body and produce effects on health. As I mentioned before, the true extent of such effects are unknown, especially long-term. Unlike the dietary route, there is not much information about the appropriate doses or potential toxic side effects of the intravenous infusion if the oral route (and therefore a proper absorption through the intestines) is not used.
So in short, despite so many wonderful claims and widespread devotion to promote the benefits of IV vitamins, the research concludes one thing- in the absence of a deficiency, vitamin infusions don’t do much of anything, and should be reserved for patients who are ill, cannot feed themselves or are diagnosed with a true nutritional deficiency.