IV vitamin therapy: celebrities love it but 'no evidence' it works

IV therapy — delivering vitamins, minerals, amino acids and saline intravenously — is often sold as a way to boost energy and revitalize its recipients. Use of the therapy is accelerating, expert say, thanks in large part to celebrity endorsements — but there's no reason to think it works.

Interest in IV therapy is accelerating, but there's no scientific basis for claims it improves health

IV therapy — delivering vitamins, minerals, amino acids and saline intravenously — is often sold as a way to boost energy and revitalize its recipients. Celebrities from Rihanna and Miley Cyrus to Dr. Oz have touted its benefits.

Now use of the therapy is accelerating, experts say, thanks in large part to those celebrity endorsements — and despite a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating its effectiveness. 

Tara Campbell is a naturopath in Toronto. She advises her clients IV therapy doesn't replace food and oral hydration, but adds "the IV just takes you that extra step forward." She estimates the therapy makes up 95 per cent of her business.

The therapy costs from $100 to $300 per booster, depending on the clinic. 

Jimmy Vlachos is one of Campbell's clients. He says his chiropractor and osteopath recommended IV supplements after he suffered from fatigue and digestion issues following a trip abroad a few years ago. He continues to receive drips for maintenance. "For me the biggest difference is just an energy level thing."

Other long-term users report increased stamina and an improved ability to cope with stress.

No scientific basis

Taking vitamin supplements can be intuitively appealing, explains Tim Caulfield, a professor in the school of public health at the University of Alberta who has followed the trend closely, and says it's now picking up steam. "The interest really seems to be accelerating. It's also being pushed by alternative practitioners."   

Websites for the spa-like clinics that offer the therapy often market themselves by saying that using an IV gets nutrients into cells quickly — a claim that should be met with caution, Caufield says. "First of all, there's no evidence that it does that, and second of all there's no evidence that that's required." 

If IV therapy was genuinely helpful, the benefits would readily show up in randomized control trials, he adds  — which they haven't.

The reason science-based health professionals don't recommend vitamin injections as part of their routine practice is because there's no convincing evidence they are useful as a general booster, Toronto pharmacist Scott Gavura writes on his website. It's only if someone has a diagnosed deficiency that injectable vitamins like B12 or iron can be beneficial.

While the lack of effectiveness is the main concern, doctors also say inserting an IV always carries a small risk of infection, and should be avoided unless necessary.

With files from CBC's Christine Birak

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