The nutrition drip

Run down? Fighting a cold? Vitamin IVs are the answer for many heavy hitters, but should you get the hook up?

Spout off about your recent Myers’ Cocktail and the un-initiated may think you’re referring to the latest hit libation, not an intravenous bag chock full of vitamins. But a growing number of the stressed and fitness-savvy are dipping into doctor’s offices to mainline their nutrients with the hopes of rebooting their bodies and regaining their edge.

“People with a really active lifestyle are getting IV vitamin drips to boost energy and immune function. It can improve recovery time after exercise or even surgery,” says Equinox Advisory Board member Jeffrey Morrison, M.D., who offers the treatments at his Manhattan practice. “It’s popular with athletes because it can better their performance—pre-game it enhances focus and concentration and post-game, it helps them recharge and recuperate. But other people are catching on, too, there’s more interest lately outside the typical group.”

The most common infusion, the Myers’ Cocktail (named after the doctor who created it), generally contains calcium, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins C and B complex, but ingredients can be tailored to the individual. “We sometimes add carnitine to enhance metabolism, taurine for focus, and we increase the minerals to ward off muscles cramps,” notes Morrison. The process usually takes about an hour, and fans often hook up once a week for a 4-6 week course before tapering off and doing maintenance every few months.

“It’s about bathing the cells in a high dose of nutrients with the goal of keeping you functioning optimally,” says Alexander Kulick, M.D. Like Morrison, Kulick says he treats everyone from boxers and ball players to business execs and hedge fund guys. “Chronic fatigue is associated with low levels of magnesium, which can be depleted by stress and heavy fitness training. And the mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells, need high doses of magnesium to function well. That’s why pop stars are doing IVs too. If you’re running around on stage, you’re going to get depleted and you won’t perform as well.”

Why not remedy the situation by popping supplements? You’ll absorb far less than you could get from an IV, for one. And in the case of high-dose pure vitamin C drips, which are sometimes used to treat viruses, you’re bypassing the GI tract—and major bowel upset. Still, not all docs agree that higher doses are better.

“I wouldn’t recommend it unless a patient has an underlying vitamin deficiency,” says Manhattan-based gastroenterologist Yasmin Metz, M.D. “To date, there are no randomized controlled trails to suggest that IV infusions have additional benefit in individuals without vitamin deficiencies. And patients need to be wary of the possibility of toxicity with certain vitamins and minerals, as well as the risks of thrombophlebitis and infection.”

Morrison and Kulick agree that pre-drip blood work is necessary to screen for deficiencies and other contraindications. Other potential dangers can be harder to navigate. Mega doses of vitamin C are controversial precisely for how they work at high levels. “Some research indicates that above 10 grams, vitamin C goes from being an antioxidant to a pro-oxidant, generating free radicals. That’s why it’s used to kill viruses and bacteria,” says Kulick. The antioxidant glutathione, meanwhile, is often used in vitamin IVs for its detoxifying effects, but it’s contraindicated if your detox pathways are blocked. How would you know? “It just comes down to the experience of the doctor,” says Morrison. Good reason to see a reputable MD if you still want to give it a try. Your health isn’t worth a gamble.