How Beneficial is IV Vitamin Therapy? | The Body of Evidence

How Beneficial is IV Vitamin Therapy?

I did a quick TV spot for City News in Toronto about the growing trend of IV vitamin therapy.

You can watch the video here: http://www.citynews.ca/video/2017/03/13/video-how-beneficial-is-iv-vitam...

The interview was based on an article I had written for the Montreal Gazette about 2 years ago. 

You can read the original article here: http://montrealgazette.com/health/diet-fitness/opinion-intravenous-vitam...

***********************************************************************************************************

There is a new fad that has wormed its way into Canada from south of the border. The intravenous vitamin industry has found its foothold in Canada, to the detriment of the Canadian pocketbook.

IV vitamin therapy promises to cure basically any problem you have provided you can afford the treatment. There are no specific health claims, because that would get the industry in trouble with regulators, so the benefits are deliberately vague, usually centring on boosting energy, strengthening your immune system or improving mood.

So where does the science lie?

Firstly, unless you have a medical deficiency, taking mega doses of vitamins will not prevent any disease. In 1996, the Physician Healthy showed that Vitamin A did not prevent heart disease, cancer or death. In 2009 Vitamin C and E were shown to be equally useless for disease prevention.

But maybe taking them intravenously will make a difference, you ask?

Sadly, no. Once a vitamin or any nutrient gets into your body, your body doesn’t really care how it got there. Proponents of IV vitamins will cite evidence that blood concentrations of vitamins are much higher with IV infusions. Unfortunately, what they fail to tell you is that within the next 24 hours you will pee out all those extra vitamins. Vitamin C and all the B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning that your body can only store so much. Once you achieve that maximum storage capacity, the excess is unceremoniously excreted into your toilet bowl.

These boutiques also target an upscale, hip, on-the-run demographic that has no time to eat healthy, but apparently has 45 minutes to stay hooked up to an IV pole. I’ve never really understood this argument because, quite frankly, how long does it really take you to eat an orange? If you were to eat fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, you wouldn’t need to worry about vitamin deficiency.

Nevertheless these services are marketed to the young party crowd as a cure for hangovers and a reboot after a night of drinking. Here they may actually work, not because there’s anything to vitamin therapy but because rehydrating after a hangover will improve symptoms. Of course you could rehydrate just as effectively by drinking water: an endless supply comes out of your kitchen tap for free. No need to make an appointment.

Finally, these places claim their therapy will fight fatigue and give you a “pick me up.” These are big problems for many people. Sure we could just sleep more and go to bed earlier, but who has time for that? It’s much easier to get hooked up for the magical vitamin juice. Of course, these infusions have been studied and found to be no better than placebo, at least in terms of treating the fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. But we never let facts get in the way of a good marketing strategy.

Fundamentally, IV vitamin infusions are useless for almost everyone. They persist because the risks are low. However, they are not zero. After all, someone is sticking a needle into your arm, so the risk of infection is always there. It’s a small risk to be sure, but if the benefit is zero, taking that risk just doesn’t make sense.

So to the worried well who are contemplating signing up and paying up for the IV vitamin infusion, let me propose an alternative. Instead of shelling out money for what is essentially a placebo, take that money and donate it to a homeless shelter. That will make you (and the 150,000 Canadians who use a homeless shelter every year) feel better too.

Christopher Labos is a Montreal doctor who writes about medicine and health issues.

christopher.labos@mail.mcgill.ca

Twitter.com/drlabos

 

Tags: