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On Your Side: Are IV wellness treatments safe and regulated?

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 2:05 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The National Institutes of Health estimates 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated. The latest health trend called hydration therapy offers a solution to this problem without the constraints of a doctor’s office. This On Your Side investigation works to determine whether this treatment is safe and regulated.

Drip bars first gained popularity as a quick hangover fix following a long night out. Now the business model’s expanded to customized treatments.

Chiropractor Dr. Ryan Russell is the clinic director at Vital Force in Hoover. He says this treatment is a difference-maker for those who need a boost. His business offers around two dozen IV treatments.

“After one IV bag they are going to feel a major difference in their energy,” Russell stated. “We have IV bags for patients with migraines, we have IV bags for patients with gut issues, we have IV bags for mold exposure and the list goes on and on.”

Offering fluid isn’t always a first stop for doctors in traditional clinical settings due to a lack of research.

“When we dive into it from a clinical aspect, there isn’t too much evidence-based support overall for it,” stated Dr. Ian McKeag, M.D. “And there’s also the fact that the body is not made to absorb fluids directly through the veins.”

McKeag practices sports medicine and serves as the team doctor for the UAB Blazers, where he enlists IVs to speed up recovery for athletes.

“When we give our athletes IV fluids, we’re usually doing so with a specific purpose where time is of the essence,” McKeag explained. “What folks don’t realize is while we’re giving them an IV we’re also giving them oral fluids, so we’re hitting it from both sides.”

While there are few side effects for those who are healthy, McKeag says the IV treatments aren’t risk-free. He doesn’t feel this treatment is appropriate for pediatric patients and those with certain conditions.

“Specifically, anyone who has heart-related issues like congestive heart failure, then those with lung related issues and while we’re on it, kidney issues; those are kind of the three main organs that really have some additional stress with IV fluids,” he added. “One of the first things medical students are taught - what’s your IV fluid rate, how much has this person gotten because you don’t want to fluid overload them, stressing out those organs.”

For perspective, it takes a doctor’s order to receive a bag of fluids. Most clients who visit an IV lounge don’t see a doctor, but there are some like Russell’s clinic that offer patient-level care. While Russell is quick to mention this practice isn’t meant to treat or cure illness, he does offer patients the option to get bloodwork drawn to determine any vitamin deficiencies.

“When you come in you become a patient, we check your blood pressure, get a full history and make sure there’s no contraindications and there’s nothing that will interact, “ Russell noted. “If they have a high blood pressure, we don’t want to give them something that can raise their blood pressure.”

It’s difficult to determine whether the drip bars are practicing medicine by Alabama’s standards. That’s why it’s important to first discuss this with your doctor. If given the green light, do your homework. McKeag encourages customers to inquire about the saline bags, whether the vitamins are medical-grade and the qualifications of those who are giving your IV.

“Looking into the sterile environment, ensuring that that you ask questions about the process as a whole like where is this stored, is there an expiration date on this thing, what is the expiration date,” McKeag stated. “Make sure you’re an advocate for yourself. You shouldn’t feel overburdened or like you’re overburdening anyone else by making sure that you cross all your T’s and dot all your I’s.”

On average, the treatments start around $100 dollars and can go beyond $500. Russell says most need about two treatments a month for the maximum benefit, stating the vitamins remain in the system about ten days.

“Say we are doing bloodwork on patients, if they are getting two IV bags a month, their levels always look good, they are at that optimum level medically,” Russell reported.

Russell says some of his treatments, like glutathione, offer more nutrients than anyone could consume on their own. Still, some traditional medical experts debate the overall effectiveness of vitamins.

“One of my old mentors used to tell us that Americans have some of the most expensive urine in the world and it’s because we take so many multiple multivitamins,” McKeag acknowledged. “Then and then our kidneys filter it out and it leaves the body. We don’t really use what we’re taking in.”

It’s important to note, these businesses aren’t directly regulated by a state agency or a set of protocols. In our effort to determine who was ultimately responsible for these treatments, it appears to fall to a medical director who is licensed through the state, or other licensed providers.

Some states have specific regulations that require a doctor to own the business, conduct good-faith exams prior to administering an IV, employ registered nurses, among other protocols.

Information from NIH on getting enough fluids:

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/getting-enough-fluids

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