Intravenous Vitamin Therapy: Harmless Supplement or Powerful Drug?

Available in several Toronto wellness clinics and featured on a recent episode of Dr. Oz, intravenous vitamin therapy is gaining traction as a natural way to combat everything from low energy to advanced cancer. But does it really work? Nobel prize-winning scientist Linus Pauling thought so, and his well respected clinical research on the benefits of vitamin C goes back as far as the 1970s. Since then, researchers have continued to test the effects of super-high doses of vitamin C on terminal cases of cancer. And the results have meant years of successful remission for numerous patients. These days, vitamin therapy has become a go-to source of rejuvenation for many, a sort of miracle lift believed to restore vitality and treat a range of conditions. But does science really support popular belief in its far-reaching powers?

A natural energy boost

Across Canada and North America, wellness clinics are serving up “megadoses” of intravenous vitamin C. And their customers are not always sick. Many visitors are just like Torontonian Matthew George, who admits he’s “hooked” on the treatments as a natural energy booster, stress buster, and shield against potential illness. Others claim that vitamin therapy makes them better athletes, helps prevent aging, or simply makes them “feel” better. This last claim makes sceptical doctors wonder if many patients are merely enjoying a placebo effect – they say more evidence is needed to make the wide-reaching power of vitamin therapy more credible.

Data-based evidence

In December of 2012, the call for further research was answered by a team of researchers at the University of California who found that high concentrations of vitamin C reduced the risk of heart disease by 50% in men, and by 40% in women.  A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition revealed a substantial link between vitamin B12 therapy and the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Despite pharmaceutical quality control and testing measures, many drugs used to treat the Parkinson’s come with harsh side effects, which vitamin therapy helps to manage.

FDA tightens regulation

As students in pharmaceutical courses know, most drugs come with side effects – and vitamin C megadoses are no exception.  They can contribute to kidney stones, hemolysis (red blood cell destruction), and an overload of iron in the body. The FDA has tightened regulation by threatening to close manufacturers of intravenous vitamins who don’t follow approved safe practices. And if researchers claim that vitamins help treat a particular condition, they require FDA approval for trials. Wellness clinics fly under the radar because they make no hard claims about intravenous therapy and the treatment of specific illnesses. Ultimately, the agency considers unregulated intravenous vitamin therapy potentially dangerous, and is concerned about its growing popularity as a harmless, universal cure-all.

Do you think intravenous vitamin therapy should be reserved for patients with prescriptions, or remain freely available to the public through naturopaths?