Stick it to Me: The Elective IV Infusion Trend
- The Goods
- Published on Wednesday, 02 March 2016 16:29
- Stacie M. Waldman
Claiming by some to make you "feel like a superhero," "boost your immunity," "help prevent heart disease," "detox now," "discover your fountain of youth," and "restore your balance," elective intravenous (IV) infusions of vitamins and minerals (and saline, of course) are en vogue in 2016.
Having risen in popularity in celebrity hotspots like Miami, Beverly Hills, and Manhattan, IV infusions are now available right here in Scarsdale. You can get one in an office setting or you can request a house call. One Manhattan IV infusion therapy spot offers hydration via IV, touting "trade eight glasses a day for one easy 30-minute infusion." At $250 a pop, that's some very expensive water.
Scarsdale Integrative Medicine offers "IV for everyone." From poison ivy and dementia to cold intolerance and cancer, there's an IV drip that they claim will make everyone feel better. Dr. Delayne Gratopp, a naturopath associated with this group, took a course in naturopathic medical school on IVs and it covered both nutrient and rehydration therapy. I asked her about scientific evidence that warrants the use of elective IV therapy. "I had a chance to do clinical training in two different inpatient drug and alcohol rehab centers; one that utilized IV therapies and one that didn't. The differences in the symptoms of withdrawal from drugs, alcohol, and other addictions were so dramatically improved with the introduction of IV nutrients into their bodies that I could not ignore that evidence," she said. However, is one person's experience "evidence?" Or is a randomized, controlled trial that gets published in a peer-reviewed journal a more scientific way to study medicine?
Dr. Gratopp continued by saying, "IV therapeutics can be used for a range of things from general rehydration to an immune boost...when you feel a cold or flu coming on. It allows you to get enough vitamin C to be antibiotic and antiviral." I did an extensive search of pubmed for published research that backed this claim and I did find two articles to suggest the use of high-dose, IV-administered Vitamin C in patients: one article showed a potential benefit specifically in patients with Epstein-Barr virus (though it is not an FDA-approved nor commonly accepted treatment) and another article showed an anti-viral immune response in mice in the laboratory leading me to learn that high-dose vitamin C has actually been scientifically studied for 50 years and it's still not a proven treatment for anything Dr. Gratopp says it may treat.
Dr. Gratopp believes that "IV therapy...is an excellent tool for healing. Many people who are suffering from chronic illness such as an auto-immune disease, IBS, Crohn's, psoriasis, etc., have trouble absorbing nutrients and many people just eat what we call the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is devoid of many nutrients needed for average bodily function. There are a variety of nutrients needed daily for your body to merely function, or symptoms occur like headache, nausea, pain etc. When you can't absorb your nutrients it is difficult to function and heal. IV nutrition helps with healing by get you the nutrients needed, in the proper form, bypassing your gastrointestinal tract, which is where most of the malabsorption of nutrients occurs. The immediate benefits are felt in the first few days for most basic nutrients."
In fact, patients who have had IV therapy often say they feel great for several days after receiving it. Is it a perception, though, or an actuality? Dr. Albert Wu, a practicing physician and director of the Center for Health Services & Outcomes Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reports that most Americans don't even need a multivitamin. "[We are] thinking they'll make us healthier at best and at worst, they'll do no harm. In fact...most people in their 50s who eat meals several times a day and who eat something that's even remotely balanced never have any deficiencies in anything."
Angela Middleton, a Scarsdale mom of three, was anemic and tried using iron pills to increase her iron levels. They weren't working, so she tried an IV iron drip. She was pleased with the results so since then has done several other IV infusions: glutathione, Vitamin D, L-carnitine, and additional iron boosting. "I'm not bothered by the lack of data surrounding elective IV therapy," she noted. "I believe alternative therapies can be enhancing to overall health and I view this as a safe and effective way to boost my vitamin levels." She feels great and plans to continue infusions.
Helen Morey, a Scarsdale mom of two, became horribly run down a couple of years ago. She had been through treatment for cancer, two high-risk pregnancies, chronic illness due to mold contamination in her house, and her immune system was shot. "I kept getting sinus infections," she said, "and every time I'd stop the steroids I'd get another infection." She had surgery for a deviated septum hoping that would help. Her surgeon recommended elective IV infusions. "I began IV infusions that were heavy on the vitamins and minerals," she said. "B spectrum, Magnesium, and Vitamins A and C, I believe. After the first session, I wasn't getting sick the way I had been and I was dragging less. I saw a slow but steady improvement in my immune system and my overall sense of well being."
Proponents of IV infusion therapy like the fact that nutrients go directly to cells (unlike oral vitamins). The drips can be completely customized and serum levels of nutrients increase quickly. "Administration via IV means that the GI system is not affected so the high-doses do not need to be tolerated orally," Dr. Gratopp said. "Vitamin C at high doses is difficult to take as it can cause diarrhea. But when you bypass the GI tract, you are able to give a much better immune nutrient boost."
The National Cancer Institute has conducted studies reviewing the role that high-dose vitamin C (specifically) might play for cancer patients. Some laboratory studies have shown that vitamin C works with anticancer therapies to help cause cancer cell death. However, other studies have shown increased tumor growth in mice. High dose vitamin C may work with certain therapies and certain cancer types in a beneficial way, including an increased quality of life, but it may be harmful to patients with other types of cancer or not work concomitantly with other anticancer treatments. There is still not enough evidence for supplementation (i.e. it is not approved as a form of cancer treatment).
The Firshein Center for Integrative Medicine in Manhattan, under the direction of Dr. Richard Firshein (a regular on Fox News and the Dr. Oz show), treats many patients with IV infusion therapy for a multitude of ailments as well as preventatively. I have asthma so I called to inquire about their asthma protocol. The woman who answered the phone was sure to let me know that although some insurances may reimburse a portion of the fees, they are out of network and many services are not reimbursable. An initial consultation is $600 and then bloodwork runs between $1700-$2800. Skin testing costs an additional $1200. So on the high end, you're in for $4600 before treatment begins. Infusion therapy and supplements are used to treat asthma and the infusions alone cost between $225-$250 (some people come weekly, some come every other week). Supplements vary in price. When I asked about data to support the use of IV infusion therapy and supplements to treat my asthma, (and data to support me shelling out thousands of dollars), she seemed confused and asked what I meant by data. She told me outcomes vary and it works for some people but not others. "Everyone's body works differently," she said, "but we do know it works because most people keep coming back."
A local hospital-based physician I spoke with said he believes the hype that people feel better with the infusions but that the "feel good" part is related to being ultra-hydrated. "If you get an IV infusion of pure saline, most people will feel great after that. I have yet to see data that injecting massive amounts of vitamins and minerals into your body heals you of every ailment under the sun and prevents everything else." He thinks it's an expensive way to get the nutrients your body needs and most likely gets enough of in the first place.
The vitamin industry is huge, to the tune of over $30 billion, and much of it is unregulated. (Proceed with caution if your naturopath seems anti "big pharma" as "big vita" is out there too.) It is important to note that, according to the FDA, "...dietary supplements [like vitamins and minerals] are not intended to treat, diagnosis, prevent, or cure diseases" and claims such as these should make the educated consumer think twice about ingesting the supplement. The FDA is only required to review a dietary supplement if it contains a NEW ingredient. It will be reviewed (not approved) for safety, but the FDA will not review it for effectiveness.
So the jury is out on infusions. They are generally well tolerated (although it's been argued that there are few side effects because there are few effects) and even thought there is not substantial published and peer-reviewed evidence in favor of this type of treatment, people who have experienced infusions continue to go back for more and report feeling an improvement in their overall well-being and quality of life. One must, of course, be willing and able to tolerate having a needle inserted into the vein. They are expensive and time consuming but if you've got the hours and the dollars, you've got plenty of friends who swear by it.