By Saba Zahid, RD
Patient Experience Manager, Unidine Corporation
It sounds a little weird, but IV vitamin bars are a thing and have been for the last few years. These IV bars or lounges offer IV vitamin/mineral cocktails, some costing hundreds of dollars, that are infused intravenously over the course of anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. The claims of all the health benefits are numerous and tremendous, from curing hangovers, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, to making you feel like you are in your 20s again. So is this the answer to all of our health problems?
One of the most touted claims of IV vitamin therapy is that the vitamins and minerals are 100 percent bioavailable because the infusion bypasses the gastrointestinal tract where vitamins and minerals may not be fully absorbed and goes directly into the blood stream. An additional argument that is used to support these IV vitamin fusions is that hospitals have long used IV nutrition (known as total parenteral nutrition) to care for patients with various clinical conditions. Lastly, even if you don’t have a chronic health condition, proponents argue a nutrient cocktail can help improve your energy and mood. But these arguments are flawed for several reasons.
While it is true that replenishing vitamins and minerals that you may be deficient in can help alleviate issues such as fatigue, headaches, and certain pains, getting more than the recommended amount can actually be quite devastating. Magnesium, for example, plays an important role in cardiac contractions but an excessive amount can lead to cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Excess water soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins, will be excreted, making for some very expensive urine. It is also important to note that if you are not deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, getting extra amounts of any mineral or vitamin is not going to provide additional benefits, rather the benefits you feel are just a placebo effect.
In a hospital setting, total parenteral nutrition (TPN) is used in specific clinical situations where the patient cannot or should not receive their nutrition through the GI tract, such as people with gastroparesis or when intestines are obstructed. . More importantly, physicians carefully monitor the lab values of patients receiving TPN, ensuring patients are not receiving an excess amount of any one nutrient. Outside of the hospital setting, however, many of the IV cocktails are already pre-mixed for certain “benefits” (i.e., mood, vitality, hangover cure), or mixed based on what you tell the clinician or specialist, without confirmation of your actual lab values. Additionally, each person’s body will utilize nutrients in a slightly different way due to genes and other factors, so a cocktail of nutrients without the right information may not be the right cocktail for you.
Lastly, the GI tract has been designed to absorb different nutrients during different stages of the digestion process. Enzymes in our GI system are designed to alter nutrients so that they can be effectively absorbed or utilized in our system. So the idea that skipping the GI tract to get our vitamins and minerals to get 100 percent of them to our cells is off-base. Additionally, there are continuous findings related to how the GI tract absorbs different nutrients, how these nutrients interact with our genes and various components of cells, and how the GI tract may actually interact with our brain.
There are a few other points to consider in this discussion. Quality, purity, and potency of the IV nutrients in an IV bar could vary greatly, putting you at risk. Sadly, many of these IV bars are run by physicians and nurses. Based on the current evidence (or the lack thereof), it is worth noting that these clinicians may be more interested in the financial incentives of this business rather than providing an evidence-based health service to the general population. In fact, in 2018 the Federal Trade Commission charged a marketer and seller of these IV nutrient therapies with making deceptive and unsupported health claims.
So what can you do to get all your vitamins and minerals? The answer is always a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of foods. Need help figuring out what a healthy diet looks like for you? Work with one of Shore Medical Center’s registered dietitians at the Outpatient Nutrition Counseling program.
For more information or to set up an appointment with one of our dietitians, call 609-653-4600, option 5, or visit https://shoremedicalcenter.org/departments/nutrition-counseling.