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Injecting vitamin supplements has gone mainstream in the Middle East. Is it worth it?
Intravenous vitamin therapies claim to boost energy and immunity, but experts urge caution
A throbbing pain under my foot, an indicator of vitamin D deficiency, made me order a vitamin D intravenous (IV) session through a home services app that’s now rolling IV drips. After an hour of administration, I instantly felt energized. But I would need more sittings to ensure an uptick in my deficiency until my body reaches homeostasis. So, does vitamin drip therapy work? A more pertinent question is: how far would one go for a health boost?
With the wellness trend appearing to have gone mass market in the Middle East, promising hydration, energy, and immunity boost, there’s an ongoing debate about its effectiveness.
Globally, IV vitamin therapy has caught on with social media influencers and celebrities – Chrissy Teigen, Rihanna, Adele, Justin Beiber, and Simon Cowell – all vouching for the new way of consuming supplements.
“Many people are vitamin deficient but never even realize it. Receiving vitamins and minerals through IV nutritional therapy is the most efficient way of combating and aiding the prevention of vitamin deficiencies,” says Ravdeep Chaggar, Superintendent Pharmacist at Get A Drip.
INCREASING DEFICIENCIES AND DEMAND
For a sun-drenched region, the biggest irony for the Middle East region is the high rates of vitamin D deficiency. According to research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, “the Middle East and North African regions have a very high rate of vitamin D deficiency, which reaches 81% among various age groups.”
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic had a knock-on effect on the sales of vitamins in the region like the rest of the world.
For instance, Vitamin C product sales have grown substantially in Saudi Arabia.
“People are more health-conscious and seek a way to control their health. Living through multiple lockdowns and limiting contact with others has not only affected our immune system but has also depleted our vitamin levels that we can usually obtain from natural sources,” says Chaggar.
In the Middle East, there has been a spurt in enterprises rolling out IV vitamin services, from traditional hospitals to more app-based services approved by health authorities. On social media, Instagram accounts offer discounted services; wellness boutiques provide the services as a bundle at premium prices. The price of IV drips ranges from $256 (AED 943) for one treatment for hair growth to $500 for an immunity boost.
Many people are looking for a boost in energy to help them get through the day. “Our energy drip and B12 injections have proven to be a common favorite for clients. B12 contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism, a reduction in tiredness and fatigue, normal red blood cell formation, and more,” he adds.
“Many claim to feel the effects the next day, and the vitamin can last in your system for up to three months.”
Other high-demand vitamins include glutathione and vitamin C, Chaggar says. Glutathione is an antioxidant that helps protect cells and DNA from damage caused by oxidative stress and environmental toxins; vitamin C also has antioxidative properties and has been popular with those with an iron deficiency, as vitamin C also increases iron absorption. This means that more dietary iron (obtained from food and oral supplements) can be absorbed into your bloodstream for your body’s use.
THE BENEFITS OF VITAMIN COCKTAIL
The demand for the convenience of home services is apparent. Touted for its reenergizing effects, IV vitamin therapy in many parts of the Middle East can be ordered through several apps. The ease of access to vitamin cocktails that promise to deliver numerous vitamins and nutrients to the body has partly led to their popularity.
The benefits of vitamin IV drips include an apparent increase in nutrient-rich cells, improved cellular healing rates, restoration of homeostasis, and improved nutrient deficiencies.
“While oral supplements may aid in avoiding and treating vitamin deficiencies, their absorption rate is poor — only 15% of what you consume will be absorbed into the bloodstream via the digestive tract. Comparatively, when receiving an IV drip, the vitamins are administered directly into your bloodstream, bypassing the gut altogether: allowing you to absorb 100% of those nutrients and vitamins. In other words, IV vitamin drips have 100% bioavailability. In turn, IV drips are a pivotal way of obtaining key micronutrients. They are also more cost-efficient and convenient than oral supplements while lasting longer in your system, too,” says Chaggar.
A study by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine researched two groups, one to which the IV vitamins were administered and another placebo group. Interestingly, both groups reported instant relief from the administered vitamin and saline water. Another field of research where IV administration of vitamins has shown to improve a patient’s outcomes significantly is cancer.
One study found that people with cancer who received IV vitamin C had a better quality of life and fewer cancer-related side effects than those who did not receive it. There is mounting evidence indicating that vitamin C has the potential to be a potent anti-cancer agent when administered intravenously and in high doses (high-dose IVC). Additionally, according to the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research, early-phase clinical trials have confirmed the efficacy of IVC in eradicating tumor cells of various cancer types.
Another benefit IV drip therapy provides is that “a client can completely customize their drip to reach their individual health goal within a shorter time frame. Following our guidelines and taking into account your full medical history, medication, and vital observations, we recommend certain micronutrient combinations that will benefit you and your specific needs”, adds Chaggar.
Citing an example of many clients reportedly feeling run down and fatigued, he says the clinic will recommend the energy drip, which contains ingredients such as vitamin B12 and magnesium, which contribute to reduced tiredness and fatigue.
Although they are great in a pinch, IV supplements do not replace good lifestyle and eating habits.
A DIETICIAN’S OPINION ON VITAMIN JUICE
“There is no evidence to suggest that IV drips offer any health benefits. As a dietitian, I practice evidence-based practice and therefore do not recommend IV vitamin/mineral infusions routinely unless there is a clinical indication,” says Marcela Fiuza, dietician and nutritionist from the British Dietetic Association.
There are risks associated with having a needle inserted into a vein, she adds, including infection, phlebitis, and fluid extravasation. “There is also the risk of having excess amounts of nutrients. Those with kidney issues, heart disease, and high blood pressure would be at particular risk of complications from IV drips,” Fiuza adds.
The biggest advantage of IV therapy is instant absorption. “When administered IV, nutrients bypass the gastrointestinal tract, which controls how much is absorbed; therefore, absorption is higher. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. In a hospital setting, people get a full assessment before administering anything intravenously. This rarely happens in commercial settings offering IV drips,” says Fiuza.
She explains that intravenous vitamins, nutrients, and fluids can be life-saving when oral intake is impossible. This is often a result of surgery or illness, such as severe diarrhea and vomiting, malabsorption and disorders.
But the question remains: why do so many people, including celebrities, influencers, and myself, report feeling better after one session of an IV boost? Fiuza has a simple explanation.
In most cases, this is because “it is a quick way to receive hydration. If you have been out partying, you will likely be dehydrated — rehydrating will make you feel better,” she says.
“There are simpler, cheaper, and safer ways to hydrate yourself.”