IV drips could be the next travel amenity. Should you give it a try?

Sarah Pollok
Sarah Pollok

Multimedia Journalist

For a long time, ending up with an IV drip in your arm during a holiday likely meant something had gone terrifically wrong.

Today, travellers who have partied a little too hard on holiday or need a boost before jetting abroad are reportedly turning to the medical procedure, which is becoming a new wellness amenity in hotels, resorts and even shopping malls.

From hospitals to hotels

Intravenous (IV) nutrient therapy got its start in the 1960s, when a doctor from Johns Hopkins Hospital named John Myers realised injecting nutrients instead of ingesting them was much more efficient. So, the physician mixed essential vitamins and minerals to create the “Myers Cocktail”, which was promoted and advanced by Dr Alan Gaby, an expert in nutritional medicine, in the 1980s.

IV nutrient therapy hummed along as a niche treatment within the medical industry for decades. Then, in 2010, a hospital anesthesiologist called Jason Burke kitted out a bus in Las Vegas with everything needed to administer IV hydration therapy to hangover-struck visitors and named the company Hangover Heaven.

In 2013, after some rough food poisoning during a medical residency, Adam Nadelson turned to an IV drip and experienced the benefits first-hand. Inspired, he founded I.V. Doc, which operates in 33 US cities as well as London, Spain and Ibiza and often services guests in fancy hotels such as the Four Seasons or the Ritz.

Touted as a shortcut to better health and a cure for certain ailments, it’s no surprise time-poor Type As and celebrities like Rita Ora and Gwyneth Paltrow embraced the treatment, which is trickling down to the masses.

In 2023, The Global Wellness Institute counted 7000 medical spas and thousands of IV clinics, many of which aren’t contained to niche wellness centres or elite hotels but destinations such as Harrods shopping mall in London, Carnival Cruise ships or Four Seasons spas.

IV drips become travel amenity

Travel puts stress on the body in a multitude of ways, and travellers have long taken efforts to be in tip-top condition, whether by taking melatonin to sleep on a flight, caffeine to beat jetlag or painkillers for a nasty hangover.

Proponents of the treatment, such as Sarah Muniz, the director of clinical operations at PureDropIV in Washington, said this is simply another way to mitigate these stressors.

“People get really dehydrated when they travel. They get hangovers and sun exposure. They’re at high altitudes when they’re flying,” Muniz told the Washington Post.

“Having the ability to get the hydration and B-12 vitamins and vitamin C really helps people bounce back.”

What about New Zealand?

In New Zealand, we’re a few years off dropping in for a drip at the local Westfield or during a hotel stay. A handful of clinics offer IV drip therapy and some visit clients’ homes but the treatment is absent from most hotel and spa offerings.

One place where holidaymakers can give it a try is Lakeside Health and Wellness Retreat, a million-dollar property in Karapiro. Established in 2012, the property primarily hosts wellness retreats, which run between three and 21 days.

During retreats that last seven days or more, Lakeside founder Joelee Ranby said more than 50 per cent of guests get their blood tested and analysed on-site as part of their health retreat experience.

Lakeside Health and Wellness host regular retreats and offer a vast range of health treatments. Photo / Supplied
Lakeside Health and Wellness host regular retreats and offer a vast range of health treatments. Photo / Supplied

Ranby said guests were often found to lack certain essential vitamins and minerals, which left them fatigued and unable to meaningfully improve their health.

“Following those blood tests, it becomes obvious infusions would benefit many of those clients,” she said.

As a medical procedure, clients must have a consultation with a registered nurse and GP and get comprehensive blood tests done before receiving the “Myers Vitamin Infusion’”, which takes 90 minutes and costs $660 in total.

The retreat now offers the vitamin infusions as a “drop-in service” for guests who aren’t part of an organised retreat programme and said consultations can be done over the phone and blood tests arranged in advance.

Risks prompt strict regulation

Whether it’s fashion trends or wellness trends, it’s not unusual for Aotearoa to play catch up with the US, Europe, UK and even Australia. In the case of IV drips, the lag isn’t entirely due to our distance from trend-setting destinations but legislation.

Several IV companies expressed wariness to speak with Herald Travel due to the Medicines Act 1981, which defines and regulates medicines, medical devices and related products to ensure they are effective and safe. The issue, in particular, is because: “Medicines cannot be advertised, sold or distributed without the approval of the Minister of Health”.

As a result, IV drip companies or health resorts are careful to avoid being seen to market or promote IV drips, which the act regulates. Instead, people must learn about the treatment and seek out practitioners themselves. This level of regulation isn’t necessarily bad; despite being offered alongside lymphatic massages or sound baths, getting an IV drip is a medical procedure with real risks.

Getting an IV drip is a medical procedure and should be done by a medical professional to can manage risks.
Getting an IV drip is a medical procedure and should be done by a medical professional to can manage risks.

Are IV drips safe?

IV drips are regularly used in hospitals and other medical facilities because they can be a safe and effective way to get necessary substances into someone’s body to treat deficiencies or illnesses. Like any procedure, there are risks; even if the equipment and drip contents are hospital-grade sterile and the drip is designed to meet the patient’s exact needs, their response during and after treatment is never completely reliable.

So, professionals weigh the potential risks against the benefits and the patient’s history to decide whether it should be used. The issue posed by clinical trials and medical experts is whether the benefits are worth the risks if the person is otherwise healthy.

“There is a lack of high-quality evidence to suggest that high-dose vitamin infusions are necessary or offer any health benefit in the absence of a specific vitamin deficiency or medical condition,” stated an article in the 2023 Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin.

Titled “Intravenous vitamin injections: where is the evidence?”, the authors question claims that intravenous drips help the body absorb high doses of vitamins and minerals more quickly and can reduce stress or boost immunity.

“The body needs small daily quantities of vitamins and minerals, which are usually obtained from the diet,” they state, adding that IV drips are necessary for a small number of “serious medical conditions” such as malabsorption syndromes with severe vitamin depletion.

So, what does the body do if it receives a larger-than-necessary dose of vitamins and minerals? At worst it can cause toxicity that overwhelms vital organs and at best, excess is simply peed out.

Risks and rewards aside, the treatment continues to gain popularity with those eager to prioritise health. Both Art Green and Rita Ora have posted photos of receiving IV drip therapy in New Zealand. If the country follows America, the UK and Australia’s footsteps, travellers could soon do the same from the comfort of a hotel room, spa or shopping mall.