MANILA, Philippines—Intravenous (IV) vitamin therapy, once a niche luxury procedure, has now become a mainstream wellness phenomenon across Asia, including the Philippines, where clinics and beauty salons are increasingly offering this vitality-boosting treatment to the health-conscious public.

IV vitamin therapy has been around for years. It has, however, gained popularity among Hollywood celebrities in the past years and recently among local celebrities and influencers in the Philippines.

Among those who are hooked on the glamorous wellness trend is actress-host Mariel Padilla, who, in a now-deleted Instagram post, shared a picture of her having an IV drip session at the Senate office of her husband, Sen. Robin Padilla.

“Drip anywhere is our motto! Hehehe I had an appointment with @dripinluxeph but I was going to be late so I had it done in my husband’s office. Hehe I never miss a drip because it really helps in so many ways. A collagen production, whitening, energy, metabolism, immunity and 50000 much more! So convenient and really effective, magaling talaga,” she wrote in the caption.

On the Drip in Luxe Instagram page, they also posted a video of Padilla proudly showing her IV drip.

READ: Mariel Padilla receives backlash for doing ‘IV drip’ in Senate office

While IV vitamin therapy has stirred considerable debate among health experts and enthusiasts over its purported benefits and potential risks, Padilla’s post attracted criticism for an entirely different reason.

Vitamin drip controversy

After Padilla’s photo and the Instagram reel were posted, netizens expressed dismay and criticized the actress’ “shameless act” for not respecting the formality of the Senate office.

“No decency in the Senate. Is this the type of imagery you want to convey to the Filipino public? @senate,” wrote one X, formerly Twitter, user.

Padilla attended the Senate session to show support for her husband during the approval of the Eddie Garcia Bill, a legislative measure designed to safeguard and promote the rights of workers in the film and television industry.

READ: Mariel Padilla on taking IV drip at Senate office: ‘Wala akong inapakang tao’

Aside from criticisms from the public, Sen. Nancy Binay also spoke up about the issue, stressing that Padilla’s IV drip session involved issues on the Senate’s reputation.

The senator noted that the ethics committee of the Senate may not have jurisdiction over the incident as the actress was not a member of the Senate, but they will still “closely look into it.”

READ: Binay: Mariel Padilla’s IV drip involves Senate’s integrity, safety concerns

In an exclusive interview with Bandera, the actress-host apologized to the Senate and clarified that she had no intention to offend anyone.

READ: Mariel Padilla on taking IV drip at Senate office: ‘Wala akong inapakang tao’

Senator Padilla, meanwhile, initially laughed off the incident, which he said has turned into a political issue.

What is IV vitamin therapy

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

“Enough with that political issue; it’s really [bothersome]. Honestly, we have so much more to discuss,” he told reporters in Filipino.

In separate letters to Binay and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Padilla offered apologies over the incident involving his wife’s “vitamin C drip session” at the Senate, clarifying that there was no deliberate disregard for the Senate’s regulations.

He also sought forgiveness from Dr. Renato Sison of the Senate Medical and Dental Bureau and Senate sergeant-at-arms Lieutenant General Roberto Ancan.

READ: Robin Padilla says sorry to Senate execs over wife’s vitamin C drip mess

What’s the hype about IV drips?

Imagine getting a week’s worth of vitamins in just 30 minutes — that’s the promise of IV vitamin therapy, a trendy health hack embraced by everyone from busy professionals to A-list celebrities.

As Laura Shane-McWhorter, PharmD, a clinical professor at the University of Utah, explained, this isn’t your average health supplement routine. Instead of swallowing pills, you’re hooked up to a cannula — a tiny tube in your vein — that pumps a cocktail of vitamins and minerals directly into your bloodstream.

Why the hype? Some clinics offering IV drip therapies and enthusiasts will tell you it is all about absorption. When you take a vitamin, your body doesn’t get all the goods due to digestion’s complex process. But with IV therapy, it’s straight to your blood, offering a faster and more potent vitamin hit.

Sessions can be as quick as your coffee break or as long as a lunch hour, depending on what your body needs and how quickly it can take in these nutrients. The benefits are said to be extensive, ranging from boosted energy to enhanced immune support.

The concept, Shane-McWhorter explained, is not new — it is rooted in the Myers’ cocktail, concocted by Dr. John Myers in the ’70s, a mix of high doses of B vitamins, vitamin C, and minerals mixed with sterile water, originally designed to tackle chronic conditions like migraines and asthma.

Today’s IV vitamin drips have evolved, said Shane-McWhorter, offering personalized blends to suit individual health needs, whether you’re an octogenarian or a toddler.

Potential benefits?

Normally, IVs can be medically needed when the digestive system isn’t working well, to receive more fluids than you’re able to drink, to receive blood transfusions, to get medication that can’t be taken by mouth, and for a host of other treatments.

In cases of massive bleeding, extreme dehydration, overwhelming infection, or dangerously low blood pressure, IV treatments can dramatically increase the chances of survival.

“IV hydration is a great thing for people who really need it,” said Robert H. Shmerling, M.D., senior faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing, who has researched IV therapy.

However, IV drip clinics and bars offer a range of specialized vitamin IV drip promises that their treatments can go beyond simple hydration. These specialized places offer a range of specific vitamin IV drip concoctions, each tailored to address specific health needs and wellness goals.

Among the benefits these IV drip treatments claim to offer include:

  • Alleviating hangover symptoms.
  • Enhancing the immune system.
  • Boosting energy levels while reducing fatigue.
  • Detoxifying the body.
  • Promoting radiant, healthier skin.
  • Managing and treating a variety of conditions, including asthma, allergies, chronic sinusitis, hypertension, fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart disease, acute muscle spasms, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Providing relief from migraine and tension headaches.

“Some advocates claim that IV vitamin therapy can enhance wellness even in people who do not have vitamin (or mineral) deficiencies. Sellers of IV vitamin therapy also claim that infusions are better than dietary sources of the vitamins,” said Shane-McWhorter.

Are IV vitamin drips necessary?

Several health experts — including Dr. Shmerling and Shane-McWhorter — argue there is insufficient evidence proving that IV vitamin therapy has any of its purported beneficial effects or is effective in treating certain diseases.

“Very few studies have tested the effectiveness of the Myers’ cocktail or any other form,” Shane-McWhorter wrote.

“Thus, evidence is mostly anecdotal, meaning that it is limited to people’s personal remembrances. Anecdotal evidence is generally not considered strong evidence,” she added.

Who should consider IV therapy

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

Dr. Shmerling explained that the conditions for which the IVs-on-demand are offered —such as jet lag and a hangover — “are not conditions caused by dehydration or reversed by hydration.”

He also said he is doubtful that IV fluids will improve the appearance of a person who is well-nourished and well-hydrated to start with.

“[T]here’s a reasonable alternative to IV fluids: drinking fluids. If you’re able to drink fluids, that’s the best way to get them. If you’re too sick to drink and need rehydration, you should get care at a medical facility.”

Who should consider IV drip treatments?

A medically reviewed article published by Forbes Health noted that people facing nutritional deficiencies, malabsorption problems, gastrointestinal disorders, or chronic conditions such as kidney disease, as well as those recovering from surgery, might benefit from additional nutrient support through IV therapy.

However, it clarified that some of these conditions would require IV therapy administration in a hospital or clinical setting.

Dr. Mordeána Williams, a doctor of nursing practice and an owner of an IV therapy drip clinic in New York City, emphasized to Forbes Health that it is crucial to consult health care professionals before embarking on IV therapy to ensure its appropriateness and safety.

When choosing an IV therapy provider outside a hospital or clinic, Dr. Williams recommends:

  • Opting for an experienced provider with at least a couple of years of practical experience.
  • As much as possible, ensure that IV therapies are administered by a qualified health care professional, such as a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse, or a nurse practitioner.
  • Choosing a facility that maintains high cleanliness standards.
  • Inquiring about the origins of the clinic’s vitamins and supplements.

Shane-McWhorter, however, has cautioned that IV vitamin therapy for healthy individuals is not recommended, as there’s no confirmed evidence supporting its health claims.

The clinical professor stressed that the safety of these infusions can vary, depending on the types and doses of vitamins and minerals used, the rate of administration, and the specific nutrient doses.

She advises that certain groups, such as pregnant or breastfeeding women and individuals with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or heart conditions, should avoid high-dose IV vitamin therapies like the Myers’ cocktail.

Additionally, individuals without a deficiency and those on specific medications, including those that affect red blood cell production or involve drugs like ceftriaxone, should consult their health care provider before considering high-dose IV vitamin treatments.

Disadvantages, side effects, risks

“I’ll admit I’m skeptical. (Could you tell?) It’s not just that I’m a slow adopter (which is true) or that I’m dubious of costly treatments promoted by anecdotes on fancy websites (which I am). What bothers me is the lack of evidence for an invasive treatment,” Dr. Shmerling wrote.

“The injection site can become infected, and a vein can become inflamed or blocked with a clot (a condition called superficial thrombophlebitis). While these complications are uncommon, even a small risk isn’t worth taking if the treatment is not necessary or helpful,” he added.

Shane-McWhorter also listed possible side effects and risks of IV vitamin drip therapy among individuals with certain conditions:

  • Individuals with blood magnesium or potassium abnormalities, potentially due to kidney disease, diuretic use, or excessive alcohol consumption, may experience issues like abnormal heart rhythms or muscle weakness from infusions containing magnesium or potassium.
  • For those with heart conditions or high blood pressure, high-dose vitamin infusions might result in fluid overload, risking temporary or even permanent damage to the kidneys, brain, and heart.
  • Administering the infusion too rapidly could lead to a drop in blood pressure, possibly from magnesium, causing lightheadedness or fainting.
  • Some studies suggest that Myers’ cocktail or similar vitamin and mineral infusions can trigger depression, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
  • Overdosing on vitamins and minerals can be detrimental; for instance, large IV doses of thiamine (vitamin B1) might provoke anaphylaxis, and excessive vitamin B6 can lead to peripheral nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy).

Warnings vs IV glutathione

The IV drip session involving Padilla in her husband’s Senate office, initially suspected to be a glutathione treatment, raised health alarms.

Senator Binay, citing previous warnings from the Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was among those who expressed concern over the procedure.

“[T]he gluta drip was declared by the DOH to be unsafe, banned by the FDA,” she said.

According to Health Secretary Ted Herbosa IV therapy may cause damage to internal organs if used improperly. The procedure is being used by some people who want to attain whiter skin complexion, along with some other alleged therapeutic effects.

This statement came after a 39-year-old woman from Quezon City died allegedly due to complications from intravenous glutathione and stem cell therapy earlier this year.

READ: DOH warns against use of intravenous glutathione for skin whitening

The FDA has issued advisories against such treatments, underscoring the lack of approval and potential risks, including serious side effects and infection risks from non-sterile practices.

“Side effects on the use of injectable glutathione for skin lightening include toxic effects on the liver, kidneys, and nervous system. Also of concern is the possibility of Stevens Johnson Syndrome. Injectable glutathione is sometimes paired with intravenous Vitamin C,” FDA said in FDA Advisory No. 2019-182.

“Vitamin C injection may form kidney stones if the urine is acidic. Large doses of Vitamin C have resulted in hemodialysis in patients with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency,” it continued.

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Padilla later clarified that she received a vitamin C drip and not whitening glutathione.