Can an intravenous (IV) vitamin infusion help the body heal from chronic illness? A growing body of research suggests the answer may be “yes” and while critics in the medical profession remain sceptical, it’s starting to garner mainstream attention as a promising treatment for myriad ailments.
Celebrities such as Madonna and Rihanna have embraced IV infusions, both for health and cosmetic purposes. Vitamin C is, after all, touted to be the natural alternative to Botox. However, what’s most exciting about these vitamin cocktails is their potential to assist the body in coping with disease.
Take cancer, for example. A 2008 US study found that injecting large amounts of vitamin C into laboratory mice with aggressive cancers caused their tumours to shrink by between 41 and 53 per cent. This year, researchers at the University of Kansas found that high doses of IV vitamin C helped to kill ovarian cancer cells and reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy.
Dr Joseph Georghy, of North Shore Cosmetic in Sydney, first used IV nutrition in Europe more than 40 years ago, and his patients now include CEOs, celebrities, elite athletes, cancer patients and women looking for a natural facelift. He says it can also be good for breast cancer patients, too, adding: “When used in the first six months after the diagnosis, vitamin C may be associated with a reduced risk of mortality and recurrence.”
So why not just take a vitamin pill?
“When nutrients are given intravenously, your digestive system is bypassed and a much higher level of nutrition can be delivered directly to your cells,” he says.
What’s the process?
The IV drip allows nutrients such as vitamins C and B and selenium to be delivered directly into the bloodstream. It usually takes between 30 and 90 minutes and the average price for a vitamin C infusion is about $250, rising to $1000 for complex nutrient blends.
It’s not only in cases of serious illness that doctors and patients are seeing results. Dr Richard Moore, a Sydney doctor who’s also an osteopath and acupuncturist, treats a variety of patients, from teenagers with glandular fever to those with antibiotic-resistant tonsillitis. “They come in for a couple of drips and it can help them, although intravenous vitamins aren’t suitable or effective for everyone,” he says, adding that patients have a full medical consultation and blood tests before any IV procedure.
Critics argue the IV version offers little more than a balanced diet and a vitamin tablet would, however, there are studies that show the efficacy of the intravenous delivery. In 2004, the US National Institutes of Health found that blood concentrations of vitamin C were 6.6 times greater when given intravenously than when the same amount was given to patients orally.
As a young doctor in Slovenia, Georghy recalls every patient being given IV vitamins C and B, plus folic acid before and after procedures. “They tolerated surgery better and recovered faster,” he says.
On a purely aesthetic level, vitamin C has a lot to offer. “It improves collagen production,” Georghy says. He also says it’s a secret to avoiding stretch marks during pregnancy, but adds that you should always check with your medical professional before having this treatment.
The Vitamin B-side
For those suffering from chronic fatigue, depression or conditions of the nervous system, a quick shot of B12 delivered via injection may help regain some equilibrium.
Moore uses the active form of B12, called methylcobalamin. “The methyl group of vitamins are necessary for production of serotonin – the feelgood hormone,” he says. “So, sometimes, B12 can help people who have mood issues.”
Risk versus benefit
There’s scepticism in the medical world about IV nutrition. When asked if a healthy person needs to hand over cash for IV vitamins to stay healthy and looking good, London-based GP Dr Michael Wetzler says “absolutely not”. The patients he treats with IV vitamin C typically suffer from recurrent infections, chronic stress and cancer. “We’ve experienced patients whose lives have been changed by IV vitamin C treatment,” he says.
Dr Brian Morton, spokesman for the Australian Medical Association, says: “Well-nourished adults don’t need IV vitamins – there’s no clear evidence of benefit.” He also warns of the risk of allergic reaction andinfection. “The issue of any procedure is risk versus benefit. Whether it’s an IV in a hospital or elsewhere, the risk exists and it depends on the location, the sterile environment and the training of the proceduralist.”
There have also been reports of potential dangers such as kidney stones. However, Georghy claims there’s “no drug in human history” with a higher safety profile than vitamin C. “There have been less than 15 cases of kidney stones worldwide in the last 60 years [as a result of IV vitamin infusion] and those people already had renal failure,” he adds.
Moore cautions that vitamin infusions shouldn’t be used in place of good nutrition and lifestyle, adding: “We want to address the cause of the problem rather than using vitamins as a bandaid solution.”
How do I find a practitioner?
IV vitamin C should only be administered by a registered medical practitioner. The Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine has a national database of those who offer IV supplements. While not mandatory, they should have had training with the ACNEM.