Let’s Hang A Drip For That
Updated: Jul 5
Healthy people are signing up all over the United States for a trendy treatment claiming to offer cures for everything from hangovers to migraines to Lyme Disease. Being known for our evidence-based approaches to medicine, we scoured the literature for evidence for such claims and healing powers of intravenous (IV) hydration. There’s very little evidence, albeit no one would argue that the image of someone getting a bag of IV fluids emits a tone of medical rescue and relief.
But what about the claims for maintaining overall health by rushing vitamins through the veins to give immunity? True that intravenous therapy bypasses the gastrointestinal tract and delivers 100% of the therapy to the bloodstream, allowing for a greater and quicker tissue distribution. Compare that to some oral drug therapies that must be absorbed from the GI tract first, where the bioavailability, or available drug after drug absorption, may vary from 5% to higher. Some compounds are more difficult to absorb than others. Should we all rush to our nearest medical clinic and ask for a daily dose of IV therapy? Of course not. Even still, hydration centers are popping up all over the country. Proponents for these “RallyBags” or “Cure Cocktails” are fiercely opinionated that vitamin-infused intravenous hydration improves symptoms, and provides more relief than many over-the-counter medications that they take by mouth.
The modern-day craze for IV hydration may very well have begun with Dr. John Myers in the 1960s who developed an infusion now referred to as the “Myers Cocktail” which contained a blend of vitamin C, B vitamins, and even essential nutrients like calcium and magnesium. We need these vitamins for many functions of the body, including immunity. But not everyone needs to receive these intravenously. Further, essential elements like calcium and magnesium can cause harm if given in too high of a dose. There is no power in that potion unless you have lab results suggesting a deficiency which should be carefully managed by a physician’s team. Medical evidence for the powers of intravenous therapy is very limited, but there are some scenarios that make sense, despite the lack of scientific study.
Some illnesses that present with diarrhea or excessive vomiting require IV therapies because the gut is too irritated to absorb medications or nutrients and fluid loss can be significant. Some chronic illnesses of the gut leave the intestine’s mucosal tissue inflamed which can decrease absorption of vitamins and nutrients. Patients who have had surgeries that remove or resect part of the stomach or colon can have decreased absorption, and IV hydration is life-altering for patients who have nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy or pregnancy-induced emesis. Likewise, nutrition via an intravenous line is lifesaving for people with pancreatitis, when their gut needs to rest from any solid food in order to heal, or diabetic ketoacidosis where fluids and special additives allow the cells to absorb nutrients and electrolytes.
Other medical conditions where IV hydration has evidence for improving either quality of life or reversing laboratory markers of illness include dehydration after a febrile illness or in athletes who train in hot climate conditions, migraines, and those with vitamin deficiencies where the absorption is known to be improved by bypassing the GI tract.
It’s important to be evaluated by a licensed and experienced health professional prior to receiving intravenous therapy because solutions can be tailored specifically to combat symptoms or correct chemical deficiencies. We’ve had patients speed their recovery from “COVID fatigue” as well as from over-indulgence at music festivals or our local Memphis in May BBQ Fest. Athletes including bicyclists, league soccer players, and long-distance runners use our individualized treatments to recover from muscle injury and dehydration. And those patients who suffer from migraines or severe nausea from pregnancy have been able to bypass the high cost and long waits of busy emergency rooms with our convenient IV therapy.
Beware of the risks! It can be dangerous to confuse the popularity and increasing availability of IV rehydration therapy with a broad assumption of safety. Just as IV therapy is the most direct route for absorption for some medications and fluids, it is also the most direct route for bacteria and unwanted toxins. The risk of infection from IVs in careless or unsupervised hands is very real, as bacteria can travel via the blood supply directly to critical heart valves, bony structures, and even the brain. Failing to continuously monitor an infusion can allow fluids to leak out of damaged veins and cause damage to surrounding tissues.
Surprisingly, there is also such a thing as “too much” fluid. Patients with a history of chronic heart failure or kidney disease must be extremely careful with IV fluids. Volume overload can result by overwhelming the heart’s ability to circulate blood or the kidney’s ability to remove excess fluids. Choosing the wrong fluid can result in life-threatening chemical imbalances like hyponatremia.
So, as we enter these steamy months of the Midsouth summer and reopen Iron Man races, marathons, tennis tournaments, and music festivals, consider the benefits of IV infusions. From dehydration to heat exhaustion to the miseries of an early morning hangover, a properly prepared bag of IV fluids can save the day. Remain cautious, though. Choose a center with highly qualified and experienced staff and one with an on-site physician. Make certain that any additives to your IV are within service dates and have been properly stored and ask to watch as the provider prepares the infusion.
If we can help answer your hydration-related questions, call and speak to one of our providers in Memphis. We can even come to you for a single IV or group specials. Just like all our Züp services, your treatment will be tailored to your specific needs by a qualified medical professional. Please call 901-701-7010 to schedule your appointment.