Had you picked up a gossip rag in the last three years, chances are you would have read something about intravenous therapy, the celebrity fad that had, quite literally, penetrated every accessible vein Hollywood.
Performers, athletes and movie executives – the kind of alpha personalities who simply couldn’t afford to fall ill – were reported to have gained extra energy and a bulletproof immune system by way of vitamin cocktails drip-fed straight into their blood system. The practice had become something of a fashion statement, a rather extreme but high-tech way of sustaining the super-human levels of energy that their jobs required.
Today IV therapy has, rather suitably, trickled its way down to the masses. What was once a celebrity-only pick-me-up is now readily available to mere mortals. IV cafes are popping up in major cities all over the world from London to Japan, offering a solution for everything from migraines to jetlag. Among my social circle in London, everyone from work-hard play-hard PRs to yoga teachers openly enjoys an intravenous booster from time to time.
The main reason an increasing number of people are turning to IV therapy is the level of absorption afforded by the medium. Since the usual digestive mechanisms are bypassed, absorption of vitamins and minerals from IV is near the 100% mark. This is impossible with a pill, no matter how potent, expensive or well engineered it is. The gastrointestinal tract is designed to process everything it encounters and so it will invariably break down most of the nutrients in a pill. In fact, a person with a healthy intestinal tract is likely to get 25-50% absorption from an oral supplement, energy drink or vitamin pill (depending on which study your read). This ballpark percentage makes the lofty claims on the packaging of fancy supplements highly questionable. And it makes IV therapy more attractive to health nuts.
The reviving effect of IV therapy is instant and the choice of cocktail entirely bespoke. At Dr David Jack’s office in central London (iv-me.com) the concoctions on offer do a variety of jobs ranging from purification and hydration to anti-ageing and energy boosting, depending on the vitamins, micronutrients and trace elements in the mix.
“The most popular IV treatments I do are ones containing glutathione,” says Dr Jack as he prepares my bag of fluid. “This is what everyone seems to want as it has been in the media a bit and is a buzzword in natural health circles,” he says. Glutathione, which forms the base of most of his bespoke IV cocktails, is an intracellular antioxidant that is essential to life but, as with most of the good stuff that our body needs, supplies decrease with age (read a great piece about it here). Crucially, glutathione is poorly absorbed orally and needs to be drip fed directly into the system. In other words, there is no other way to get it into your system – it must be drip fed.
(Interestingly, prior to its rise to fame among health nuts, glutathione was used in hospitals to reverse the effects of alcohol on the liver. It should come as no surprise that most of the marketing behind IV establishments relies on fighting chronic hangovers. An IV café in Las Vegas –natch – is named Hangover Heaven and aims to undo the damage incurred during a night on the Strip).
The testimonials of IV therapy’s miraculous effects are wide… and mostly anecdotal, as there don’t appear to be any randomised controlled clinical trials to demonstrate their efficacy. A multivitamin formula can, in theory, repair enzyme systems and boost the functioning of the nervous system. As such, people report relief from chronic fatigue and migraines, they feel detoxified and claim visible signs of age are dramatically lessened.
My own treatment with Dr David Jack is ‘the full whack’. To the glutathione base he adds a B complex, selenium, zinc, iron, copper chromium, molybdenum and manganese – everything but the kitchen sink. He also throws in a hefty 4g dose of Vitamin C, which I start to question. Many people might argue that dosing someone up with a water-soluble vitamin is a waste of time as it will only be excreted rather than stored by the body. Dr Jack begs to differ. “Basically the rationale behind giving fairly high doses of vitamin C is to help drive it and other components in the infusion into cells prior to excretion and normalization of blood levels. The aim is not necessarily to increase stores,” he says.
The crook of my arm is prepped with an anesthetic cream (the kind of perk you’d never get at a hospital) and the cannula enters my body painlessly. I sit back back in a comfy armchair and flick through Instagram with my free hand, the bag of goodness placed just above head level.
My body, depleted from hours of sweaty training, drinks up the infusion in 20 minutes, far quicker than the average joe Dr Jack tells me. Given my active lifestyle, he gives me a B12 jab (an intramuscular injection) for good measure – this is the energy accelerator that is allegedly used by the likes of Simon Cowell and Madonna to get through a grueling work(out) schedule.
That evening my energy levels are through the roof and, even though I had already completed 90 minutes of intense hot yoga, I decide to go for a long evening run. 17km to be exact. I usually start to slow things down by 6pm but for the next three days I continue to operate as if I’m running on more cocaine than a stockbroker in the 1980s. Most clinics that offer the treatment say you need a course of three or four infusions to get the full effect. I have only had one and can certainly see the payoff for someone who travels a lot, sleeps to little and can’t maintain a healthy balanced diet. Since I make sure that I sleep enough, eat well and exercise daily, the added effect of an IV sends me stratospheric.
At £169 / $ 250 a pop regular IV therapy won’t be a regular indulgence for me. But in those moments when seasonal lethargy kicks in or my immune system starts to falter it will be my first port of call. In the meantime, it’s back to the pills.
Dr David Jack offers IV vitamin therapies from £169. See iv-me.com for more details.