Drip therapy is the latest alt-med craze. It is akin to an IV, though with far less tangible benefits. During a session, customers receive a liquid injection into their forearm. As to what that liquid consists of, “nutrients” is the vague, standby answer. Of course, one can get nutrients via eating and drinking, but drip therapy carries the promise of delivering those benefits straight to the body, thus bypassing the gut.
According to Nick Tiller in the Skeptical Inquirer, practitioners wear stereotypical white coats, carry clipboards, and have their customers recline in chairs resembling those at the dentist. This presents a veneer of medical respectability and practitioners likewise dress themselves with language which sounds scientific, but which are in fact pseudoscience buzzwords, such as immunity booster, detox, energy, healing, and fitness.
So it’s not surprising that they commit an error than a genuine nutritionist would not. As Tiller noted, “Millions of years of evolution gave us a gastrointestinal tract fully able to digest and absorb all the nutrients we need for normal metabolic function.” So nature – which the likes of drip therapists often wrongly tout as always desirable – in this case gets it right. Bypassing the gut is unnecessary and even without value. Moreover, if one truly has poor nutrition habits, those should be tackled by eating better, not by jumping onto the latest gimmick. Nutrient drips are an unnecessary, not terribly effective means of getting vitamins and minerals without committing to long-term diet change.
And users may not even be breaking even on the deal. Tiller wrote that excessive levels of some nutrients can be harmful to health, perhaps even increasing the chance of contracting a non-communicable disease. And NFL teams have reported complications from intravenous treatments, including blood clots, air bubbles, fluid accumulation on the lungs, and even one case of a punctured lung.
None of the companies hawking these products make testable statements and they use shrewd phrasing which suggests benefits without promising anything specific. As Tiller noted, claiming to improve maximal oxygen uptake is precise and falsifiable, while asserting that the products helps one achieve fitness goals is not.
Unless the customer has a nutrient deficiency, there will be no benefit to the drips. And diagnosing a nutrient deficiency usually requires a blood test, after which a physician might prescribe supplements.
There is one other potentially valid use. Extremely physical undertakings such as an ultramarathon can lead to dehydration and malnutrition, and these can be treated with an injection of saline and electrolytes.
But both of these are instances of medical professionals dealing with diagnosed issues by a means based on understood science. That’s much different than a putative treatment being administered to a random someone who happens by a kiosk on their way to Bed Bath and Beyond.