Are IV Supplements Safe? A Doctor Weighs In On The Pros & Cons

Functional Medicine Practitioner By William Cole, D.C., IFMCP
Functional Medicine Practitioner
Dr. Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, is a leading functional medicine expert who specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Cole is also the bestselling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.

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In America, close to 95 percent of people are deficient in vitamin D, making it the most common deficiency in our nation. This is especially important when you learn that vitamin D is the one vitamin that every single cell in your body needs to function properly. There are also a bunch of other vitamins and minerals—like vitamin E, magnesium, and vitamin A—that are difficult to get through diet alone. In my functional medicine clinic, I see these deficiencies affect everything from our body's detoxification process to hormone production to immune health.

So what is our modern-day answer to this problem? Well, intravenous (IV) supplements, of course! In our fast-paced culture we often look for the quickest fix to our problems, and at first glance, IV drips look like the answer to our prayers. Getting an IV drip is as easy as ordering your favorite takeout, and you can actually place an order for a customized IV drip to be delivered to your house or office, nurse included. What once started as a hangover cure has grown in popularity as celebrities and the rest of the wellness world catches on.

IV drips last anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes and come in much higher doses than you could get from supplement capsules or food alone. Typically, a single IV drip starts at around $100 for one nutrient, and the price continues to climb the more nutrients you add. And even if you can afford it, as with anything, there are pros and cons. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. So before you rush to order your first IV supplement, let’s examine whether this is the best option for your health:

The pros of IV supplements.

1. They are the most bioavailable type of supplement.

The nutrients in an IV drip are absorbed into the bloodstream. This allows the nutrients to bypass the gut, where a lot of the absorption from supplements and food happens, making it a better choice for people with leaky gut syndrome or other gut problems.

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2. They are completely customizable.

Depending on your individual needs, you can create a customized cocktail or a personalized blend of nutrients. There's no need for multiple supplements when you can have them all administered at one time.

3. They can help keep you hydrated.

Since the nutrients in an IV drip are contained in a liquid salt solution, you’ll not only get the vitamins you need; you’ll also be instantly hydrated and boost your electrolyte levels.

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4. They can offer a quick boost.

Have a big event coming up, but woke up with the sniffles? IV supplements are the perfect solution to short-term health woes. Just like at your favorite juice or smoothie bar, you can add a higher dose of vitamin C or other immune-boosting ingredients to your personal drip to help you fight off whatever bacteria is trying to take you down.

5. They can slow the aging process.

Popular among celebrities, the addition of glutathione to an IV drip can keep skin looking youthful and vibrant. Glutathione acts as an antioxidant in the body to fight off free radicals that contribute to wrinkles and other signs of aging. Adding it to an IV drip has been shown to be more powerful in these effects than just taking it orally, due to higher bioavailability.

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The downside of IV supplements:

1. They can be dangerous.

Every person has a different biochemistry, so even if you happen to have the same diagnoses as someone else, your individual treatment and nutritional requirements are going to be different. IV supplements can quickly become dangerous if you don’t know exactly what you need. While all of these nutrients are healthy, they can become unhealthy if administered at unnecessarily high doses. Make sure to work with your doctor to have labs run beforehand to determine exactly what your nutrient deficiencies are and what amount you should be getting of each.

2. They are not a long-term solution.

Unless you change your lifestyle and eating habits, it doesn’t matter how many IV drips you get. Things like gut dysfunctions, for example, can make it difficult to fully absorb nutrients from food even if you are eating whole, nutrient-dense food. Once you fix those underlying health problems, you may find that IV supplements are not needed.

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3. They are not all created equal.

It’s extremely important to make sure you are getting an IV from a reputable facility as well as checking the potency and making sure the actual contents of the drip are made in FDA-approved facilities to avoid any questionable additives.

4. They can cause immediate reactions.

Inflammation, bruising, and infection are all immediate risks involved with IVs of any kind, especially if you get your drip from a less-than-reputable facility or are more sensitive in general.

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5. They may not actually help at all.

Interestingly enough, the dramatic increase in health people feel immediately after getting an IV drip may not be due to the IV at all. A lot of scientists are pointing to the placebo effect as the reason for this. Basically, you’ll make yourself believe that you are feeling better because you’ve been told you will. One study actually examined this effect by giving half a group of fibromyalgia patients a solution with vitamins and half without. The findings? Both groups actually improved.

So what's the final verdict? While the cons seem more glaring than the pros, IV drips shouldn’t be ruled out completely. For people needing a quick boost or for anyone with a medical condition that requires immediate nutrients, these are a fantastic option. But for anything else? Let’s stick with whole food and sustainable lifestyle changes.

Want more supplements FAQs? Here's what you need to know about fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.

William Cole, D.C., IFMCP
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