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IV Hydration Therapy is Trendy, but What Does the Science Say?

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A new service commonly known as intravenous (IV) vitamin therapy or IV hydration may sound like a good way to get fluids and nutrients into your body to relieve certain symptoms. However, no research has shown that it provides significant benefits, despite the bold marketing language often used.

IV therapy is a new trend for treating flu symptoms, hangovers, jet lag, and exercise fatigue. It is provided at hydration bars and lounges, spas, and wellness centers, and some businesses even offer at-home and mobile services. The process is simple and fast. Customers fill out a health profile form, relax in a recliner, choose from a menu of infusions or “cocktails,” and then receive the mixture of vitamins, herbs, and fluids via an IV line. It takes 45-60 minutes, and the cost ranges from $80 to $400.

Its popularity has grown in recent years, and the appeal of a quick boost or fast hangover fix is easy to understand. But many of these businesses also market their services as a way to promote general wellness. Some medical professionals have expressed concerns with both uses. And in 2018, the Federal Trade Commission began cracking down on businesses that make sweeping health claims about their IV cocktails – especially when the therapy is marketed to treat diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and congestive heart failure.

Bold Claims

As for IV therapy as a hangover cure, there’s no evidence that it relieves symptoms, which are the result of alcohol in the system breaking down and producing toxins. The body’s process of removing those toxins by filtering them through the kidneys cannot be sped up or improved by receiving IV fluids. It just means that a greater volume of fluid will be processed through the body.

In cases where alcohol has caused vomiting or diarrhea, an IV drip may be helpful in overcoming the dehydration that sometimes occurs. But unless you’ve reached that point, it’s easier and cheaper to drink plenty of water, take over-the-counter pain relievers for headache, and get some rest. The same approach applies to treating dehydration caused by cold and flu symptoms.

IV therapy is also promoted for various wellness efforts such as boosting the immune system, revitalizing skin, restoring hormones, and removing toxins. No medical research has shown that IV therapy can accomplish any of those things. Also, it’s worth noting the disclaimers that almost every IV therapy company provides on their websites and in brochures. Most are some variation of the following:

“The services provided have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Any designations or references to therapies are for marketing purposes only.”

Science vs. Marketing

Even without the disclaimer, many claims about IV therapy made by wellness centers vary from questionable to unverifiable. For example, no amount of hydration therapy will end jet lag, which is a temporary sleep disorder. It occurs after crossing multiple time zones, putting the body’s internal clock out of sync with the time in a new location.

Several companies offer mixtures of vitamins and minerals that “restore your body’s balance” or “minimize illness.” Both are vague claims that have no clinical meaning and cannot be proven or disproven.

Some hydration bars suggest that athletes and active individuals get weekly fluid infusions to “maintain optimal hydration level.” Even if an ideal hydration level can even be determined, maintaining a water and mineral balance is a complex bodily process that involves hormones, blood pressure, the kidneys, and signals from the sweat and salivary glands. This balance is not likely to be affected by hydration. We all know that dehydration is bad, but research has not determined if hydration positively affects health, well-being, or chronic medical conditions.

In short, the benefits of IV therapy are unproven, as admitted by the companies that offer such services.

Risk Assessment

If you are considering IV therapy, weigh any potential benefits against the risk of infection – and the risk of wasting your money. Many IV therapy businesses use registered nurses or other licensed medical professionals to administer the IV, but there’s always a risk of infection with needles.

Another way to assess the risk is to consider the credibility of the business offering IV therapy. Some claim to offer a single, catch-all vitamin infusion that will “regulate metabolism, assist in weight loss, increase immunity, improve sleep, and enhance mood and mental clarity.” If these promised benefits are not backed by science, what does that say about the company making such claims?