Are B12 Shots and Nutrient IVs Safe?

With so many 'med spas' offering replenishing shots and treatments, we asked an expert if it's for real or a waste of money.

IV image via shutterstock

IV image via shutterstock

Madonna, Rihanna, Simon Cowell, and other well-known celebrities have all reportedly used B12 shots and nutrient-infused IV bags to cure hangovers, get much-needed vitamins, or just look like they got a good night’s sleep after performing on the road. These “vitamin drips” are trendy, but for public use, most clinics have been confined to the West Coast.

But now you can do your back-to-school shopping, and stop in and get a B12 shot all at the same time. Delete Tattoo Removal & Laser Salon on Newbury Street is offering the IV bags (starting around $100-$140 per bag) and B12 shots ($20) to anyone who wants them. The B12 shots effects last around a week, and the IVs’ last around a month, according to a representative at Delete. But are they safe?

Dr. Jennifer Joe, an internist and nephrologist in private practice in West Roxbury, says that B12 shots are common. “B12 is considered relatively safe. But there are side effects, with local irritation at the site of injection being most common,” she says. “Less common and more serious side effects would be heart failure, anxiety, headache, dizziness, and pain.”

But is it safe to walk into a storefront on Newbury Street and get a shot? “B12 shots are common in the primary care setting. They are indicated when there is a blood test that clearly shows deficiency,” she says. “In my reviews of cases from across the country, I do see primary care physicians treating fatigue with B12 shots when there’s not a clear indication of deficiency. It does seem to help patients. But there’s no data, and that’s not standard of care.”

The more expensive nutrient-infused IV bags, (which are made in a compounding pharmacy and perfected by homeopathic doctors at Delete’s sister location in Phoenix), is not something Joe recommends. Nutrient infusions vary depending on what business is offering them. Some examples at Delete include: The Skinny (which according to Delete’s website helps burn fat faster and naturally with vitaminsB1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12); The Immune Booster (extra vitamin C and B vitamins to help fight germs, bugs and sickness); and The Hangover Helper (a generous infusion of magnesium, calcium, selenium and zinc.)

“Nutrient infusions have been prominent on the West Coast for a while,” Joe says. “I personally would not recommend this to my patients. There is no data on the usefulness of infusions and there is no data that you are getting higher levels of these nutrients than you would from a normal diet.” There is limited data on vitamins and supplements as it is, and the FDA does not regulate the shots or IV bags, she says.

Ethically, there seems to be a few issues as well. Washingtonian reported back in May that “the celebrity trend is using nutrients that hospitals desperately need.”:

Doctors and pharmacists say that because of nationwide shortages caused by a combination of factors—manufacturing problems, a market with few incentives for companies to produce low-profit drugs, and the government’s delayed and inadequate action—thousands of patients are being malnourished.

There are 300 drug, vitamin, and trace-element shortages in the US, the highest number ever recorded.

Have you tried a “nutrient infusion” IV or a B12 shot? Did you feel better?