IV Therapy Is the New Spirit of Choice

by Linda L. Esterson, photography by Nikola Tzenov

The Cocktail of the Future

Sonya Francis sits in a comfortable recliner at Restore Therapy Spa in Westminster twice a month and relaxes for about an hour. During these sessions, she chats with staff, answers emails, texts with friends and sometimes takes advantage of the cushioned chair’s massage settings.

Francis is one of many in Carroll County opting for intravenous (IV) therapy — the latest health care indulgence popping up in spas, clinics, shopping centers and even through mobile providers — that delivers nutrients directly into the bloodstream. While the real estate agent relaxes, she receives an IV of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other supplements, which she says boosts her energy.

After dealing with long-term gastrointestinal issues, including concerns resulting from eating certain foods, Francis researched methods for ensuring proper nutrition. Foods that were significantly processed lacked the nutritional value she needed, and even those prepared more naturally presented problems for her stomach. Supplements, too, require processing to convert nutrients to tablet form and proved to contribute to her digestive difficulties and upset stomach.

“I tried to figure out foods I could eat that may help,” she explained. “I’m not one who can eat salads all the time because they affect me. … When I came across the fact that instead of taking pills, having nutrients put in through the IV made sense for me,” she said. “It was perfect.”

A New Way to Supplement

IV Therapy The Cocktail of the Future Ann Edwards

“It’s similar to taking a vitamin or eating healthy where you’re getting those nutrients into the body, but we’re bypassing the digestive system. For a lot of people, what they’re eating isn’t necessarily what their body is absorbing.” – Ann Edwards, Restore Therapy Spa

Ann Edwards, owner and physical therapist at Restore Therapy Spa, added the service last summer following many client requests. She said that IV therapy aligns with the spa’s holistic approach of treating the body from within to relieve pain and enhance skin health.

“It’s similar to taking a vitamin or eating healthy where you’re getting those nutrients into the body, but we’re bypassing the digestive system,” Edwards explained. “For a lot of people, what they’re eating isn’t necessarily what their body is absorbing, and the same (occurs) with supplements.

“It might be 10% or 20% of what you think you’re getting with the supplement. With IV, you’re getting 100% of those nutrients directly into the bloodstream, so your cells can use that immediately.”

Brittany Lookingbill, an emergency room and critical care nurse, has seen her share of illnesses. Last summer, she opened Ingauged Infusions, a mobile IV therapy service delivering an alternative to long emergency room visits and providing a preventive therapy option.

“I’ve seen when people come into the hospital, we’re treating them at their worst, and there’s not a lot going on independently for prevention, to ward off all the negative things that we’re putting in our bodies,” she said. “I decided to go into the industry … because this was a way that we were helping people get over things and keeping them out of the hospital.”

Lookingbill also provides infusions for athletes before or after exertion, those who “may have partied a little bit too much” and those who have “had a stressful day or a hard week and just need to replenish energy stores.” She’s also provided group IV therapy events for bridal parties preparing for weddings, at wine festivals and during a yoga retreat.

Cocktails of Choice

Sonya Francis relaxes as her IV is started by RN Mary Dregely at Restore Therapy Spa.

IV therapy providers offer a variety of what they call cocktails, a mix of vitamins and minerals combined for a specific purpose.

The most popular at Restore Therapy Spa is the Myers’ cocktail, developed in the late 1950s by the late Dr. John Myers, who married his interests in engineering and medicine to become a pioneer in the utilization of nutritional elements in optimizing bodily systems. Edwards calls the Myers’ cocktail the Wellness IV, referencing its blend of B vitamins, high dose vitamin C, magnesium, calcium and zinc. This cocktail boosts the immune system, combats fatigue and anxiety, and supports detoxification. Lookingbill offers a similar mix in her Pre-Game cocktail.

Recovery at Restore Therapy Spa provides an amino acid blend, vitamin C, vitamin B complex and a mineral blend to combat hangovers and help with weight loss. Athletes use this blend to boost performance before physical activity or to aid the body’s recovery following competition. Ingauged Infusions offers a similar cocktail, with added magnesium chloride and a Toradol push before the infusion for anti-inflammatory benefits.

Restore’s Beauty offers a collagen boost for the skin, hair and nails with magnesium, calcium, vitamins B and C, and biotin. Lookingbill refers to a similar blend as the Facial. She also provides a fourth choice, Time of the Month, a favorite of her clients. This infusion focuses on women’s health and provides a higher dose of magnesium for cramping, B vitamins for energy replenishment and Toradol for pain.

Some clients opt for doses of one vitamin or mineral exclusively. Lookingbill calls the magnesium-only infusion the Relax, hinting at its higher dose of the mineral to ease tension, energize muscles and improve gut health.

The cocktails are provided via mail order by a compound pharmacy, which follows guidelines recommended by U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), an independent nonprofit focused on medicine and supplement safety. There is no governance of the therapy itself, as the substances are all natural and not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, just like vitamin supplements. However, a licensed nurse must administer the infusion and perform a detailed intake to determine eligibility. Individuals with heart, liver and kidney conditions would be ineligible.

Getting a Boost

IV Therapy The Cocktail of the Future

Mobile IV Therapy process.

Francis, who co-owns Hampstead-based RE/MAX Solutions with her husband, Bill, visits the spa to receive the Wellness and Beauty IVs for therapy twice monthly. She also adds glutathione to her therapy for immunity support.

“I get an immediate boost that lasts through the next morning,” she said, with the effects contributing to her energy level for several weeks. During one month, she felt particularly sluggish and realized she had not scheduled her appointment.

For most, few side effects result from infusion therapy. Some people, however, may experience discomfort like nausea, headaches, soreness or bruising at the infusion site.

“They’re natural substances that your body has anyway, and they’re water-soluble. If there is any extra, your body is just going to urinate it out,” Edwards explains. “With these formulas, there’s very little risk involved.”

Amanda Green first turned to the therapy for a boost last summer when her bloodwork showed a deficiency in several vitamins. She also opted for IV therapy following a softball tournament and prior to trips to Florida and, most recently, Africa.

“I got an IV a few days ahead of time for an immunity boost, and I wanted to get extra vitamin C and B12 and a mix of common vitamins we don’t always get in the food sources we consume,” she said. “I knew I was traveling far and was going to be in a different country, so I did it for that reason.”

Like Francis, Green acknowledges the energy boost she received from the infusions. As a title paralegal, she is often stressed and feels sluggish. “It feels like it gives you an extra pep in your step,” she said.

Some medical professionals haven’t jumped on the bandwagon despite practitioners saying it’s a safe process.

Dr. Randi Braman, a primary care physician and co-founder of BW Primary Care, a group practice with offices in Eldersburg and Owings Mills, said she’s not a proponent of IV therapy for the general population. The focus should be on getting nutrients through food and living a healthy lifestyle. Those who add IV therapy will likely eliminate all that they take in since it’s not needed, she explained.

IV Therapy The Cocktail of the Future

Brittany Lookingbill, Ingauged Infusions, provides a mobile IV therapy service to Amanda Green.

“If they feel like they have energy from it for a particular reason, I don’t see any harm in it,” she said. “But I do think if they have chronic fatigue and are looking to do something for that, they should go to their primary care clinician first to make sure there’s not something else going on rather than just trying vitamins.”

Braman does acknowledge benefits for those with certain medical conditions, like anemia, celiac disease, colitis and bowel disease, or who have undergone gastric bypass.

“Somebody who is highly sensitive and has a lot of GI issues might be the exception,” she added. “(IV therapy might be) the only way for them to get those nutrients in. … That probably does provide a good service for them.”

Braman also acknowledges IV therapy for those severely dehydrated from a hangover or those recovering from running a marathon. “I could see it for somebody who has a really bad hangover or is just sick and maybe wants to have the home IV. It would even be nice just for a person who has a bad flu … if somebody could come to your home and just give you an IV.”

At a Cost

Many health insurance plans do not cover IV vitamin therapy. Each infusion can cost a client up to $300, depending on the cocktail and any additional boosts. Group pricing and memberships can reduce the cost. Edwards runs specials periodically and offers $99 mini bags to introduce the new service.

As the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. IV therapy could prevent a hospital ER visit or equip the body to fight a virus.

“My big driving factor is prevention and caring for your body as a whole from the inside out,” Lookingbill explained. “I will always recommend what is best for that person so that they are the safest they can be in taking care of their body.”