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tep inside the lounge at Evolved Science and you’ll find a cocktail menu unlike any you’ve ever seen.

The ritzy Manhattan medical office — which says it serves high-powered clients and celebrities — shakes and stirs up tailored IV infusions using a slurry of vitamins and amino acids. There’s a Jet Lag Eraser, for use after hopping off a long international flight, a Detoxification saline smoothie for “improving alertness and mental acuity,” and a Late Night Rescue cocktail to undo the effects of too many actual cocktails the night before.

The company claims liquid vitamins, minerals, and amino acids delivered straight to the bloodstream can protect users from getting a cold, boost athletic performance, “annihilate toxins,” and stave off headaches. “We put together the ideal combination for them to obtain the results they want: clearer skin, clearer mind, better hair, better nails,” said Dr. Erika Schwartz, who runs the clinic.

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And though the IV lends a medical air to the procedure, the infusions suffer from the same problem as many supplements taken orally — there isn’t any robust evidence to back up their health claims.

“Supplements don’t fix anything and they don’t prevent anything. It’s simple,” said Dr. Pete Miller, a clinician and nutrition researcher at Johns Hopkins.

Evolve health clinic
The Evolved Science clinic in New York. Evolved Science

Vitamin IV infusions aren’t anything new. Celebrities from Simon Cowell and Rihanna to the Real Housewives have proclaimed their love for vitamin drips. They’re part of a huge — and wildly popular — supplement industry which goes largely unregulated. Supplement makers aren’t allowed to claim that their products can cure or treat a particular condition, but they are allowed to make sweeping claims that the products promote health.

The infusion treatments can be traced back to an intravenous supplement known as the Myers’ cocktail, a slurry of magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, and other products developed decades ago by a Baltimore physician. There is a published review on the use of Myers’ cocktail — but it’s just a collection of anecdotal evidence. The author, Dr. Alan Gaby, has long promoted the use of intravenous vitamins for a wide range of clinical conditions.

The research on injectable vitamins of any kind is thin and the results unimpressive. One study looked at injectable vitamins to treat asthma, but there was no placebo group to compare outcomes against. Two studies have examined intravenous vitamin use in fibromyalgia patients. One didn’t turn up any significant improvement in patients who received the infusions. The other — which was also missing a placebo group —  involved just seven patients and showed only short-term improvement in symptoms.

Schwartz, though, said the supplements are completely safe.

“We’re doing it in a sterile environment, it’s administered by a nurse, and everything is sterile,” she said. “The only difference is it’s kind of a beautiful environment.”

Customers at Evolved Science shell out anywhere from $325 to $875 for an infusion. For first-time clients, Schwartz recommends weekly injections for the first month or so, and then a routine infusion once a month. Patients kick back in cream-colored chairs together while they’re hooked up to IVs in the “infusion lounge.”

“It doesn’t look like a doctor’s office. It’s very relaxed, not like a spa. But like a private club. It’s a SoHo house kind of thing,” said Schwartz, a former trauma surgeon.

But as for whether they’ll help a client prepare for an important presentation?

“There is not not substantial evidence that vitamin supplements have a large impact on cognitive function,” said Dr. Francine Grodstein, a public health researcher at Harvard who has studied the subject. A longitudinal study would be needed to back those claims with evidence, she added.

Still, the trend seems to be going strong. The I.V. Doc — an in-home vitamin infusion service — offers on-demand nutrient drips in places including Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the Hamptons. In Las Vegas, hangover buses deliver pick-me-up infusions on the go.

And despite a lack of sound evidence, experts expect consumers to keep coming back for infusions.

What drives the market is not the science,” said Miller. “In spite of that lack of evidence, there’s still a market for it.”

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  • It is a pity that I/V water-soluble vitamins appears to be surrounded by “hoopla”. From 1982 until my retirement in 2012 I gave literally hundreds of I/V infusions. The principle is very simple: disease is due to a combination of genetic risk, our failure to adapt to the environment (Selye, The General Adaptation Syndrome) and the failure of nutritional elements to meet energy demands. Selye emphasized that it was lack of energy that caused what he referred to as “the diseases of adaptation”. Not much was known about energy metabolism in Selye’s time but now we know a lot about it. Through the new science of epigenetics we also know that nutrients can affect the efficiency and behavior of our genes. The vitamins are being given as drugs in the form of a mitochondrial cocktail. For example, I was able to show that a patient with eosinophilic esophagitis who was addicted to sugar was thiamin deficient. He responded to I/V thiamin Citation: Lonsdale D (2016) Is Eosinophilic Esophagitis a Sugar Sensitive Disease?. J Gastric Disord Ther 2 (1): doi http://dx.doi.org/10.16966/2381-8689.114

  • Gaby’s study is 2002. This study is 2009–PMID: 19250003, and from Yale. Shows safety but not efficacy.
    There are also other studies on IV nutrients that are suggestive and would be interesting to report:
    PMID: 27773919 (IV vitamin C efficacy in neurofibromatosis type 1)
    PMID: 28224112 (2017 study, rapid resolution of ARDS, study from Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine)
    The latter two studies are impressive and suggestive, and warrant more than dismissal.
    I think the writer could have probed more deeply.

    • I wish there were more studies out there too. I’ve turned to Myers cocktails (though I didn’t pay a third of what Evolved Science is charging!) when I’ve had specific nutritional deficiencies that were not resolved by diet or oral supplementation. Actually getting those numbers up makes a big difference in terms of symptoms and quality of life. Dr. Pete Miller must be speaking only of people without demonstrated deficiencies.

      As for the healthy, I suppose it would not surprise me if people who live Manhattan lifestyles and make the kind of money to spend at this spa wouldn’t benefit from some extra nutrition (and that would probably show if it were worth it to run labs). But how would you ever conduct a study on people who are too busy for it?

      But no one is ever going to market a cocktail lounge for people with celiac sprue, Crohns, pernicious anemia, iatrogenic deficiencies produced by medication, etc., etc. That would be depressing. Even if the healthy people spending their money on expensive rehydration and some placebos, I guess I appreciate that they’re subsidizing the service to the extent that it’s available for people who may benefit more materially.

    • Other studies of interest:

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27621254

      Acute ascorbic acid infusion increases left ventricular diastolic function in postmenopausal women.

      And:

      High-Dose Vitamin C Promotes Regression of Multiple Pulmonary Metastases Originating from Hepatocellular Carcinoma.

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26256994

      And:

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23621620

      Parenteral ascorbate as a cancer therapeutic: a reassessment based on pharmacokinetics.

      My point being, that there is enough evidence in serious illnesses that intravenous vitamins have a physiological effect (there is also another study that shows short-term decrease in blood pressure with IV vitamin C, and increase with IV b12). Nobody is going to study IV vitamins for “jet lag” or fatigue, or subclinical vitamin deficiencies, but if they are sometimes effective in more serious conditions, one can’t dismiss them out of hand as this article does. The jury is out. Citing one article by Gaby in 2002 is not an honest, deep probe of this subject.

  • The mental focus and jet lag cocktails are probably pseudoscience, but you’ve got to admit, most residents do hook themselves up to banana bags when they’re hungover

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