Intravenous Nutrient Therapy
by Dr. Evan McCarvill, ND
PO Box 3343
Melfort, Saskatchewan, S0E1A0
Let’s talk about nutritional intravenous (IV) therapy, an often-underappreciated therapeutic option for many chronic conditions. Nutritional IV therapy is safe when properly applied, cost-effective, and sometimes surprisingly effective for some of the most stubborn cases.
IV nutrient therapy is a form of orthomolecular medicine. “Ortho” is a Greek-derived term meaning “true” or “correct.” So orthomolecular medicine entails administering chemicals or molecules that are “true” or “correct” for the body’s biochemical functioning; in other words, nutrients. High doses of certain nutrients are thus used to optimize the cellular function of the body, beyond what may be typically achieved from the patient’s standard diet. Often, orthomolecular medicine simply means taking supplements by mouth, but giving nutrients intravenously usually creates blood concentrations far above what can be achieved through normal absorption through the digestive tract. This allows for more potent therapeutic effects.
Some History on IV Nutrient Therapy
Intravenous nutrient therapy got its start through the pioneering work of Dr. John Myers, who was a physician in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Myers had created what has now become famously known as the “Myers Cocktail,” which he would routinely administer intravenously to many of his patients. According to reports, he was able to successfully treat chronic cases of fatigue, depression, chest pains, and palpitations. He would give these treatments to his patients, sometimes on a monthly, weekly, or even twice-weekly basis.
When Dr. Myers passed away in 1984, many of his patients came to another physician, Dr. Alan Gaby, who would become a major figure himself in the world of orthomolecular medicine. Patients began to ask for similar treatments from Dr. Gaby. Unfortunately, Dr. Myers did not document or formally publish any data on these treatments, but from patient recollections, Dr. Gaby was able to discern that Dr. Myers’ remarkable cocktail involved solutions of magnesium chloride, calcium gluconate, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, calcium pantothenate, vitamin B complex, and vitamin C.
After a few educated modifications, Dr. Gaby approximated his own version of the “Myers Cocktail” and continued to administer it to many of his own patients. He found that he could produce dramatic results in cases such as acute asthma attacks, acute migraines, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, acute muscle spasms, upper respiratory tract infections, chronic sinusitis, and seasonal allergies. Even some relatively healthy patients would come on a regular basis for injections, because they found the treatments would enhance their overall wellbeing, sometimes for weeks or months at a time.
Rationale for IV Nutrient Therapy
Certain nutrients have been shown to exert pharmacological effects when certain blood concentrations are achieved. For example, magnesium ions have a marked relaxation effect on both vascular and bronchial smooth muscle, which has implications for the treatment of vasospastic angina, as well as bronchial asthma. This can explain why such conditions were helped in Dr. Myers’ patients.
In addition to having direct pharmacological (“drug-like”) effects, IV nutrient therapy may be more effective than oral nutrient therapy at correcting nutrient deficiencies in the body’s cells. For instance, in patients with cardiomyopathy, heart-muscle cells struggle to maintain a healthy concentration of magnesium within their cell bodies. There are special molecular “pumps” that use some of the body’s energy to pump magnesium ions from outside the cells, to the cells’ interior, against a concentration gradient. By increasing the concentration of magnesium in the blood (and extracellular fluid), you make this pumping action easier for the ailing cells. While the increased concentration is temporary, it allows for the cells to increase their own magnesium concentrations, and they can function better for a period afterwards. Thus, patients experience a period of symptomatic improvement. While the magnesium in the ailing cells may eventually leak out again, it is conceivable that some healing could take place in the interim, and so, with repeated treatments, the benefits of one treatment accumulate with the benefits of the previous one, until the patient gets to the point where the injections are no longer necessary. So, this is an example of how high concentrations of certain nutrients can have long-term benefits for chronic conditions such as cardiomyopathy. Some conditions may require ongoing treatments, if there is a genetic deficiency of a certain nutrient, if there is ongoing leakage via the kidneys of a certain nutrient, or if the chronic condition is too advanced to be reversible.
Conditions that may benefit from the Myers Cocktail, or from other forms of IV nutrient therapy, include the following:
IV Vitamin C
- Chronic Fatigue
- Allergies/Chronic Sinusitis
In particular, very large doses of vitamin C, such as 10–50 g or more, are being given by some practitioners via IV. Intravenous administration allows for far greater blood concentrations than can ever be achieved orally. Plasma concentrations of 10–15 mg/dl of vitamin C have been shown to have antiviral effects. While based mainly on case studies and anecdotal reports, there is some evidence to show that IV vitamin C can help in cases of viral hepatitis or acute mononucleosis. At high plasma concentrations, vitamin C can even have an oxidative/destructive effect on cancer cells, usually while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Thus, IVC has been sought as an adjunctive treatment for many cancer cases as well.
When applied with caution and respect, the Myers and other IV nutrient therapies are usually well tolerated, with no serious side effects. Reduced dosages should of course be applied in patients with mild-to-moderate kidney disease. IV magnesium and high-dose vitamin C are not to be used in patients with end-stage kidney disease. Other contraindications would be myasthenia gravis, myxedema, and cerebral hemorrhage. IV calcium is contraindicated in patients taking digoxin.
Application of the Myers can create a sensation of heat, apparently due mostly to the magnesium component, which is worse with faster administration. This sensation is not usually more than mildly uncomfortable but can be overbearing to some patients if the injection is given too quickly, or if the patient is not warned ahead of time. Overly rapid administration of IV magnesium can also cause blood pressure to drop too quickly, causing light-headedness and possibly fainting.
Anaphylactic (severely allergic) reactions to IV thiamine (B1) have been reported on rare occasions. Although the risk of anaphylactic reaction is low, any practitioner you see who does this kind of therapy should be well prepared in terms of equipment and training, to deal with such a reaction if it occurs. I therefore encourage potential patients to ask such prudent questions.
Additionally, one of the precautions of performing high-dose IV vitamin C is to test for glucose-6 phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency. G6PD is an enzyme for which some people are genetically deficient, and thus should not receive IV vitamin C. Therefore, any practitioner you see who performs this particular form of IV therapy should be explicitly testing you for this enzyme deficiency.
As stated above, nutritional intravenous therapy, when applied appropriately and respectfully, can be a safe and effective treatment for a wide variety of clinical conditions. While there is some published research that can certainly attest to this, it is unfortunately not abundant enough for widespread acceptance in mainstream practice. Additional research is required to firmly establish optimal doses, as well as the best specific indications for the therapy. A proper placebo group might be difficult for double-blind trials, due to the obvious physical sensations that tend to come with the active treatment, but comparing IV therapies directly with more conventional therapies would be informative. Practitioners reading this are also encouraged to document and report their results. Potential patients are encouraged to consider such therapies for any chronic conditions they may have that may benefit, but it is also a bit of a buyer beware situation out there, and so are also encouraged to pay attention to the precautions section and ask the right questions before proceeding with their practitioner.