HealthZette

The IV League

Can you inject instant health? Some say yes.

When Louis Gonzalez, a medical worker in South Florida, felt like he was coming down with a cold, he took immediate action.

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“I got a ‘megaboost’ wellness drip, and a few minutes after it was done, I felt much better. Never got sick,” Gonzalez said.

Other clients of the gleaming REVIV clinic in Miami Beach, Fla., come for an injection of B-12 or a monthly maintenance dose of vitamins and minerals. Others pop in from nearby oceanfront hotels.

Its purpose is to restore patient well-being with hydration and mega-doses of vitamins and nutrients.

“Tourists will come in three days in a row, because they felt so good after the first intravenous therapy. And they’ll bring in the buddies they were drinking with,” said Barbara Fassett, a manager at REVIV’s South Florida location, which also has an oxygen bar, leather massage chairs and a soothing, futuristic blue-and-white decor.

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Intravenous infusions of saline solution and water-soluble vitamins — a process in which patients have a needle stuck in their arm, fed by a tube attached to a plastic bag of fluid — have long been used by doctors to resuscitate patients who are severely dehydrated or malnourished. In the past decade, it’s also become a last-gasp solution for exhausted celebrities. Singer Rihanna famously tweeted a picture of herself getting what she dubbed the “party-girl drip,” and other proponents include Madonna, Simon Cowell, and Cindy Crawford.

Yet the Myer’s Cocktail, a solution of vitamin C, various B vitamins and trace minerals like magnesium and calcium, is named after the doctor who first concocted it 30 years ago, and its purpose (whether used by celebrities or not) is to instantly restore patient well-being with hydration and mega-doses of vitamins and nutrients.

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Dr. Derrick DeSilva, a physician on the faculty staff at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J., says he gives patients “IV drips all the time.” The IVs work, he said, because the digestive system cannot absorb enough of the vitamins that people consume.

“You’re not what you eat, you’re what you absorb,” he said. “If you don’t have the proper digestion system with the proper flora — that’s a big problem, especially today.”

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling was the first scientist to recommend using IVs to give patients mega-doses of vitamin C, in his case as a way to treat cancer. Today’s IV drips are based on the same principle: delivering crucial vitamins and minerals in amounts way beyond what a person normally absorbs by swallowing pills or chugging sports drinks.

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Doctors who criticize the IV craze are concerned mostly with health risks that come with any use of needles — infections or embolisms.

REVIV, for its part, hires former emergency room nurses to do its work. Most clinics also refuse to treat patients for hangovers more than once or twice a week, to avoid encouraging alcoholism.

“There is a legitimate argument for this in terms of [vitamin] absorption thresholds, but a lot of the benefit is from hydration,” he said. “This is a very expensive way of drinking a glass of water.”

“The real questions are financial and ethical,” said Doug Heller, a chemistry professor at the University of Miami and a registered phlebotomist.

“There is a legitimate argument for this in terms of [vitamin] absorption thresholds, but a lot of the benefit is from hydration,” he said. “This is a very expensive way of drinking a glass of water.”

As for the moral issues raised, he said, “This is like saying, ‘If you have enough money you can buy your way to health.’ It’s like buying yourself out of bad behavior.”

IV drips hydrate the body, and because a hallmark of heavy alcohol consumption is dehydration, IV clinics first became popular as a way to overcome hangovers, popping up in hangover-heavy places like Miami, Las Vegas, and New York.

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New York’s IVDoc, for example, which launched last year as a come-to-your-home-or-office hangover service, has expanded to Chicago, San Francisco, the Hamptons, Los Angeles, and Park City, Utah. “Our typical clients are young professionals that have to be on their toes ready to perform at the office bright and early the next day,” co-founder Dr. Adam Nadelson said.

Half of IVDoc’s clients, however, want their drip for other maladies, like jet lag, stomach flu, or exhaustion. A case in point is a 24-year-old advertising account executive, Dana Jones (not her real name), who called IVDoc for a severe case of food poisoning.

“The replacement of minerals and nutrients is all about wellness. It’s all about promoting a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

“The IV Doc came right on time and within 15 minutes I was lying in bed, fluids pumping into my body,” she said. Her at-home visit was about as close to a doctor’s house call as you can get these days.

Indeed, some IV clinics are now looking more like wellness centers than bounce-back spas. Yes, you can still sniff vanilla or mint flavored O2 at their oxygen bars to clear your head, but the latest clients at IV drip clinics are there for overall well-being.

REVIV, which focuses on health care fixes, opened the country’s first walk-in service in 2010 and hopes to have as many as 100 outlets worldwide by 2016. Clinics offer a “recovery infusion” and a “wellness infusion.”

Dr. Johnny Parvani, REVIV’s president and founder, calls the IV vitamin drip “elective wellness hydration,” and sees it as another tool for good health.

“The replacement of minerals and nutrients is all about wellness, it’s all about promoting a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “The vitamin and supplement industry is a huge sector, and I think this is the next step … This will be a global phenomena.”

Parvani wants to make IV drips part of everyone’s regular health regimen. “The media spins this heavily toward the hangover angle, but it’s pretty much for anything that throws your body off,” he said.