You have more than likely seen them advertised, the IV hydration therapy services which usually target hungover bachelor parties or perhaps athletic events such as marathons to replenish lost fluids.
Over the last few years, IV therapy has shifted in its usage. Once only for medical necessity in a hospital setting, now infusions are present in the spa and wellness world just like a massage or a facial.
Clearly, supporting the immune system is on everyone's mind right now with COVID-19 and all of its unknowns. IV drip businesses are really leaning into this and for good reason. We have peer-reviewed, scientific backed data to say that what customers are receiving in their veins will improve immune function and actually reduce risk of illness (see below).
Overall reasons for purchasing a "drip" vary but the reasons that pop up (besides hung-over people) most often: immune support and "wellness".
This curiosity of IV therapy benefits brought me to Pure Drip IV in Fort Collins. About 3 months ago I started trying all this out and anecdotally, I wholly approve of IV therapy in terms of safety and efficacy (more on this at the bottom)
Don't take my word for it. I went deep into the archives to look for journal papers to research the individual ingredients of these various drips.
In the next few paragraphs, I outline some of the more popular IV drip ingredients, all which will be familiar in name but possibly not familiar in terms of what the hell they do.
I found two common themes in these vitamins/minerals/amino acids: helping "Oxidative stress" and oral "Bioavailability". Bioavailability is fairly straight forward in definition. Basically meaning how much if this nutrient can your stomach absorb and how much do you pee out. Typically, an oral route has a much lower absorption.
Oxidative stress is a little more complicated. At the end of the day this "stress" makes your cells not work, and age causing many notable diseases like cancers. Most of the menu options for IV hydration therapy at least mention lowering oxidative stress as one of its advantages.
So, here's what I found. Starting with a popular and maybe overlooked vitamin.
Ascorbic Acid | The Power of Vitamin-C
It's hard to tell whether Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is overlooked or underutilized. Our whole lives we've been drilled with eating oranges or drinking Sunny D because we have to fight off a cold or stay healthy. Maybe we weren't that far off.
Those recommendations almost feel like a false wive's tale because it seems so damn simple. That is until some heavy evidence smacked me.
Vitamin C has many roles in the body but the immune function is the most imperative. This molecule not only stimulates production of infection fighting white blood cells, but also acts as a protective molecule for other cells when undergoing stress.
VERY NICE SIDE NOTE: Studies show extra Vitamin-C shortens the common cold.***
There is another interesting role of Vitamin C and that involves fatty acid metabolism or breaking fat down for energy. A study from the journal Nutrition & Metabolism showed that low levels of Vitamin C contributed to fat storage and that obese individuals had low levels of Vitamin C. Very intriguing!
Now the odd thing about Vitamin C, similar to other supplements, is the lack of actual absorption when taken orally. When comparing oral versus IV intake, the researchers at the National Institute of Health detected more than 6x (!) more vitamin C in the blood when compared to oral intake. That's a ton of oranges.
Currently there are a bunch of smart people looking more and more at Vitamin C for treatment of cancer, sepsis, brain disease, asthma, and more. So far we know that it has benefits (even more when taken IV) and is very low risk.
L-Carnitine for recovery, but needs more convincing evidence for fat loss
This molecule is one that assists in metabolism and energy production. In theory, when L-carnitine is given as a supplement, the user hopes that the extra carnitine targets the breakdown of fat as to help weight loss.
Once again, the bioavailability is crap when taken orally and sits somewhere in the 5% to 15% range, so luckily it can plug straight into the vein.
L-carnitine has a couple good things going for it. The interesting thing I found was that the intended use for this supplement, fat loss, results are basically nil. However, there is some decent benefits from a recovery standpoint which spans from younger, healthy individuals up to active elderly people.
One of the benefits of using L-carnitine as an older person is to replenish the carnitine in their muscles which depletes easier as aging occurs.
Overall there are reasonable benefits for recovery and aging, but this molecule probably won't strip away any fat. More studies are needed.
Glycine is what you want in your calming, hangover bag
Glycine is the most important, nonessential amino acid in humans. It has a fascinating role in liver protection, especially protectant against the toxicity of alcohol.
So far researcher feel very confident in the role that Glycine plays in its defense roles of oxidative stress which extend from the liver and into the stomach and small intestine.
Glycine also gets attention for its brain effects. Basically, glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, like serotonin, which can have some "calming" effects in your mental state. They are even studying it in lowering schizophrenia symptoms. Getting a glycine infusion won't make you start hearing voices though.
The only drawback it seems at this point is the oral versus IV. Some of the protectant effects of the GI system were only studied with oral dosing so it's unclear whether an infusion would reflect the same results.
Be sure your Magnesium isn't low.
Even before modern science, magnesium has been known to be important to the body: In the small English town of Epsom in 1618, a farmer named Henry Wicker noticed his cows refused to drink from a well due to bitter taste. This same well, however, seemed to cure cuts and wounds at a more rapid rate. Word got out and folks came from all over to experience this seemingly magical water. Eventually Epsom Salt (a magnesium salt) was born and its use is still valid today.
The main issue with magnesium seems to be the subclinical status of hypomagnesemia. For the average human, there is some data to say that despite a "normal" magnesium blood test, your levels could be low.
Potassium gets all the press when it comes to minerals but magnesium is not far behind in reference to its bodily responsibilities. There's a long list of conditions associated with low magnesium and they are some bad ones: Diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, osteoporosis... (Not to mention symptoms like muscle weakness, headaches, fatigue.)
A concerning thing I found is that one of the bigger risks for having low Mag is simply being older. Your absorption slows when you age and if you couple that with inefficient diet and some alcohol use, you keep bumping up the risk for low Magnesium and along with it the risk for the above health problems. Plus older people are on a lot of meds which notoriously mess with nutrient and mineral homeostasis.
Bottom line with magnesium: The deficiency is hard to detect and even more, the causes can be multifactorial. Aside from getting an IV infusion of Magnesium, we should strive to continue to get good intake from dietary sources (Oats, black beans, spinach are my personal favorites) as well as reduce our risks for having low magnesium in the first place. A little less alcohol, better food choice and trying to be on as little rx meds as possible.
***Side note: I found a cool study on Magnesium and it's role in treating Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). These guys basically took 60 healthy people and induced altitude sickness in them by taking them up to 15,000ft. The syndrome of AMS causes symptoms which can vary in severity, but most commonly headaches, dizziness, nausea, and weakness. After they made them sick, they gave them oral magnesium, IV magnesium, or placebo. At the end of the study, only the group that received the IV Mag had significant symptoms reduction. Kinda cool information, especially for altitude junkies.***
Protect your DNA with Zinc
Another possible additive to IV Therapy is Zinc. Zinc is hot right now and this mineral has been heavily studied recently in the immune system, similar to Vitamin C. Ultimately, Zinc is the most abundant trace intracellular element and is required for many biological functions, including reproduction, immune function, and defense against oxidative stress and free radicals.
In 2009, researchers from California published a paper showing that if they depleted Zinc in healthy men over 6 weeks, they could detect DNA strand breaks. Nuts. Especially when you think about the implications of DNA breakage, which boils down to increased oxidative stress and cancer usually.
In the immune system world, Zinc is powerful in T-cell regulation. Zinc not only regulates these white blood cells, but the entire immune system. It helps control infections by preventing excess inflammatory signals mediated by the innate immune system.
Some of the more deadly COVID-19 cases resulted in a huge cascade of uncontrollable inflammation. This inflammation is deadly to cells and in turn deadly to the body. Zinc assists in mediating this "over response" but its complete impact on COVID is not definitively understood yet (sounds familiar right?).
Aging patient have a hard time having enough Zinc, similar to their issue with magnesium. This is bad because DNA is already so sensitive as we age, we don't need to give it any more reason to degrade and break. I typically assume my proper zinc intake comes from beef and oats, but an IV boost won't hurt.
Real quick: Want another way to make the common cold go away faster? Well apparently if you supplement with Zinc, your cold may go away 3- times faster than the normal recovery without Zinc. Low risk for side effects, high upside for recovery: DONE.
Glutathione | "The Master Antioxidant"
I didn't come up with that title. People much smarter than me have deemed it so, specifically THESE PEOPLE. They love Glutathione for its many roles in, once again.... Oxidative stress.
Glutathione is like a superhero in the world of antioxidants. Apparently it has the ability to not only regenerate itself but also other antioxidants such as Vitamin C or E.
From a clinical perspective, much of the research on Glutathione revolves around the role in liver disease and alcoholism. Makes sense based on the absolute toxicity of alcohol on the body and need for a "master antioxidant".
Aside from liver disease, a fascinating area of glutathione research is in the always exhilarating field of sperm. Through specific dosing protocols, males who were previously infertile have now increased their sperm motility and viability, amazing! My thought here is that if we can wake sperm up, repair their ineffective functions, then what else could this molecule also assist with?
Glutathione works amazing for clinical disease where it has been studied. For the healthy individual, only in-theory does it provide benefit. Can't hurt to have lower oxidative stress, though.
Looking to the future
The science of non-clinical IV therapy is new and there is research constantly happening on all sorts of therapies for all sorts of ailments. This post covers only 3/4 of the possible "ingredients" to your potentially personalized drip (B-complex for instance). A few new exciting molecules are coming out so look for a part two once these scientists get off their arses. Plus, I didn't even talk about intramuscular injections, Vitamin-D is a favorite, a protectant against COVID but due to its solubility, must be in shot form.
Personally, I enjoy IV therapy. The benefits seem to be numerous and if you are a person looking to elevate their health even more, maybe look into it. The first time I received a drip, I did feel increased energy. I was running errands and didn't want to stop working out. I also got a bit of a mental boost. I felt like I was thinking clearer and was more creative. The next 3 sessions, the overall "boosts" were not nearly as pronounced, although I still felt subjectively better.
With this therapy the only major drawback seems to be price. This therapy, like most "wellness" therapy, is not cheap. You won't walk out of there without spending $150, (invest in your health though, right?) Don't expect your insurance to cover it either, this is pure out-of-pocket fun.
To finish here I want to reiterate that this therapy is not a substitute for the other pillars of health. They say you can't out exercise a bad diet, well... you can't infuse away a bad diet as well. Try it out. Stay healthy.