Fact or fad: Are vitamin drips worth the effort?

Vitamin drips can reach up to £350 for a single treatment - Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Vitamin drips can reach up to £350 for a single treatment - Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

At every festival this summer there is a tent where party-goers go to have a cannula put in their arm. Forget Alka-Seltzer or a fry-up, the hangover cure of choice these days is an infusion of vitamins in a hospital-style drip. It’s a trend that I first saw about five years ago, the day after a friend’s party. In one room, a bunch of people were lying on the sofas plugged into intravenous drips, as if on a hung-over hospital ward. I asked one man what was in the liquid he was having pumped into his blood system and he frowned and said, “I dunno”.

Starting at £85 a glug and reaching around £350 for the most deluxe cocktail of vitamins, mainlining 3½ pints of an unknown fluid seems an expensive and extreme way of getting over a big night, but it doesn’t seem to be putting people off. With celebrities such as Adele, Harry Styles and Chrissy Teigen showing images of themselves on their Instagram accounts, hooked up to hospital-style bags, there are IV-drip companies popping up everywhere from Westfield shopping centre to spa parties. For the ultimate medi-spa experience, you can now have a nurse bring an IV vitamin drip to the comfort of your home, thanks to beauty booking apps such as Ruuby, which recorded a 300 per cent rise in home bookings since the start of the pandemic.

So what exactly is a vitamin drip? It looks like an intravenous drip you’d have in hospital, only these are infused with various vitamins and minerals. You can choose from a cocktail menu of liquids, from hydrating to multivitamin ones, detoxing and energising. A treatment would generally involve sitting for 45 minutes while a cannula is inserted into a vein in your arm, allowing the liquid to enter your bloodstream. In the work-hard, play-hard world in which we live, IV-drip companies explain it as a way of “hacking” normal bodily processes, getting vitamins straight into the system rather than having to go via the digestive tract, where they may get broken down.

Vitamin IV drips have boomed in popularity in the last five years - MAGALI DRUSCOVICH
Vitamin IV drips have boomed in popularity in the last five years - MAGALI DRUSCOVICH

Dr Michael Barnish is head of life science at Reviv (gb.revivme.com), which provides IV therapy in Harvey Nichols stores, but also globally with 96 clinics in 46 countries. He explains why he believes it is beneficial. “By bypassing the rules of the gut, you get 100 per cent absorption of the nutrients,” he says. “This can be more effective than taking a supplement orally, which then gets broken down in the digestive system.” How do we know we are depleted in vitamins though? “You may be getting frequent colds and illnesses, or not performing as well in the gym as normal, which are things you can’t really go to a health provider for. We are seeing a shift in people taking their health into their own hands,” he says.

When we’re talking needles and blood my immediate worry is safety. Dr Barnish assures me that everything is done under intense medical supervision. “Every treatment starts with a medical assessment of blood pressure, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, temperature and blood pressure,” he says. “Regular checks are carried out on all processes and equipment, and our liquids are tested for endotoxins.” Reviv has also been CQC registered, which is now essential for IV vitamin-drip companies to operate. Worryingly this only came into effect this year, so up until then the industry was essentially the IV Wild West.

Does it really work?

My question is, however, is there any proof that a vitamin drip really does anything? Beyond hangover cures, some clinics are recommending them for a range of serious conditions, such as cancer, asthma, fibromyalgia (widespread pain), chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Others claim to help with weight loss and addiction support.

Helena Gibson-Moore, is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation and doesn’t believe the hype. “While there may be some anecdotal evidence for their benefits, there are few clinical trials that have assessed whether they have any real effect on these health issues.” And while bypassing the natural digestive pathways sounds very impressive, it could potentially be a very bad idea. Gibson-Moore says: “Excess water-soluble nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin C, are excreted in the urine, which could potentially damage the kidneys.” It also creates very expensive pee.

And what about the idea that mainlining vitamins could potentially help us recover from Covid? Immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi says she’s far from convinced. “So far as I am aware the only nutrient that has been tested clinically in trials is vitamin C. Evidence is mixed and studies are still ongoing, so it’s too early to state empirically if this is an effective treatment.” She goes on to say that if you are generally healthy with a balanced diet/lifestyle and no underlying deficiencies, taking more of a vitamin than you need isn’t better for you.

Henrietta Norton, co-founder of food-state vitamin brand Wild Nutrition, says that nutrients work in tight synergy and ratios. If you overload on one, you can send the rest out of whack. Dr Nicola De Savary, who is a consultant in general medicine at the Oxford University Hospitals, is worried about the rumour these drips can treat cancer “Firstly it’s not true and secondly it could delay having life-saving treatments,” she says. There is also, she explains, a risk with anything put into your bloodstream. “It always comes with a risk of infection, MRSA and blood clots,” she says.

A bad nutrient status is often caused by poor overall diet, which should be addressed before anything. Norton says that any benefit you may feel will probably be due to hydration, so you’re better off spending your money on lots of fresh food (which will contain lots of other nutrients) and glugging back a pint of water.

Verdict: Fad

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