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Monday, April 18, 2016

Is Intravenous Vitamin Therapy for You?

There is no doubt that vitamins are vital, and there are currently at least 274 studies of IV vitamins for various health conditions. (About half of these studies involve using vitamins to treat cancer.) Not everyone needs IV vitamins, however, and there are situations in which getting megadoses of vitamins intravenously can be harmful to health.

IV vitamin therapy isn't anything new. Canadian researchers used it as proof of concept for the late Dr. Linus Pauling's vitamin C therapy for cancer. Thousands of people over 60 have received IV vitamin B12 as a treatment for pernicious anemia. Extreme malnutrition can require intravenous vitamin replacement, although there have been some serious unintended consequences of using this approach.

It's the unintended but foreseeable consequences of IV vitamins that pose a problem. Most celebrity health clinics off the Meyers cocktail of intravenous vitamins, first formulated by Dr. John Meyers, a physician who practiced in Baltimore, about 30 years ago. The Meyers cocktail contains magnesium, calcium, various B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, and B12) and vitamin C in megadoses. There is 25 grams of vitamin C in the usual formulation of the cocktail, about 270 times its RDA.

Megadoses of intravenous vitamin C may actually be helpful in some cases of cancer. However, not everyone benefits from more and more vitamin C. If you have hemochromatosis, vitamin C increases the rate at which your body absorbs iron. That can be fine if you are anemic, but not if you have an iron overload disease like hemochromatosis. About 2% of the population in North America does. There are enzyme deficiencies that are problematic with high vitamin C levels, such as G-6-PD (glucose-6-dehydrogenase) deficiency, a hereditary disease common among people of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent that makes red blood cells uniquely sensitive to oxidative stress. A little vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, but a lot of vitamin C acts as a pro-oxidant that can actually trigger anemia by breaking down red blood cells in people who have this gene.

Vitamin C also isn't a great idea for some people who have kidney stones. Your kidneys eventually clear excess vitamin C from your bloodstream. If you aren't adequately hydrated, the vitamin C your kidneys are trying to flush away can accumulate as kidney stones. And when your kidneys "reset" for high vitamin C levels, if you go back to consuming normal levels of vitamin C you can develop vitamin C deficiencies that you didn't have before.

One IV infusion of megavitamins may be helpful to some people, when administered under medical supervision. Any doctor who wants you to get megadoses of vitamins every week, or even more often than once a week, probably doesn't have your best interests at heart.

Photo credit: By Harmid (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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