Infertility is remarkably common: The World Health Organization estimates 1 in 6 adults will experience infertility at least once in their lives. While it may not be discussed openly, infertility can have substantial psychological, financial and medical consequences. Defined formally as the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse, infertility can be caused by dysfunction with the male or the female reproductive system.
Despite the magnitude of the issue, solutions for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infertility – including assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) – remain underfunded and often inaccessible to many due to high costs, social stigma and limited availability. This has led to a huge industry related to “supporting” those with infertility, often with questionable treatments and practices. Because of the frustration and even desperation that can be a consequence of infertility, individuals may be more open to “alternative” approaches that promise results but may not be backed by good evidence.
I recently learned that the IV vitamin infusion industry markets itself directly as a treatment for fertility. While I blogged about IV vitamins almost exactly a decade ago (have I been here this long?) I thought it might be worth re-examining this practice and the level of evidence.
What are IV Vitamin Drips?
Intravenous vitamin injections, initially made popular by celebrities, are widely available and may be offered by naturopaths and sometimes medical doctors. Yes, there is an established medical role for injectable vitamins, though it’s no energy-boosting cure-all – they’re used to replace what we should obtain in our diet. As a hospital-based pharmacist I used to prepare sterile bags of total parenteral nutrition (TPN), a mixture of vitamins, carbohydrate, protein and fat that completely replaced the requirement to eat. TPN is effective, but not without risks, and far less preferable than getting your nutrients the old fashioned way – by eating them. There’s also the routine use in medicine of injectable vitamins like B12, or iron, all of which can be science-based when used to address true deficiencies, or to manage specific drug toxicities. And there is the therapeutic use of high-dose minerals like intravenous magnesium for acute asthma attacks. But there is no medical justification to infuse vitamins into a vein when you can more appropriately obtain those nutrients in your diet.
Intravenous vitamin drips which you can pay for with a credit card are effectively glorified versions of $0.20 vitamin pills. Advocates claim vitamin injections can benefit serious conditions like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, macular degeneration, fibromyalgia, depression, and that ongoing obsession, “detoxification”. They’re also touted as helpful for preventing illness, too. Despite the hype and endorsements, there is no credible evidence to suggest that vitamin infusions in those that are capable of eating are either necessary or offer any meaningful health benefit. They are a marketing creation – not a medical product.
Why IV Vitamin Drips for Fertility?
Why IV vitamin drips for fertility? One clinic claims:
Benefits of IV Therapy:
- Eliminate toxins that could be further impeding fertility.
- Create an internal environment optimal for conception.
- Detoxify your body.
- Restore vital vitamins and nutrients.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Protect your cells from damage.
- Enhance your immune system.
- Treat nutritional deficiencies.
Numerous studies indicate that increasing body levels of Glutathione can improve sperm, egg and embryo quality. Glutathione is the building block of our Fertility IV Blends since oxidative stress and inflammation have been associated with reduced egg and sperm quality and Glutathione is the body’s master anti-oxidant. Trace elements such as zinc, copper, selenium and magnesium are essential for reproductive health and also included in all of our blends.
These products are also targeted directly at men too, like the “sperm booster” this clinic offers:
Sperm is highly sensitive to oxidative stress. The production of excessive amounts of free radicals contributes to the mechanism behind male factor infertility by promoting sperm cell dysfunction. Our radical revive will help your body clear excessive free radicals + promote optimal sperm production.
I was not able to find any published evidence to support claims that IV infusions of vitamins, minerals or other products have any meaningful effects on fertility – for men or women. Moreover, at over $100 per infusion and recommendations that you receive these infusions weekly until conception, they can create a significant cost burden to those that may believe these products are effective.
In 2019, the UK-based “wellness company” Get A Drip withdrew its £250 “fertility drip” after experts said it was exploitative. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that it “lacked any evidence base, was pitched at an exploitative price and playing on the fears and anxieties of women who may be struggling to conceive.” They also noted
Katherine O’Brien, associate director of communications and campaigns at BPAS, said the fertility drip offered an unproven “quick fix at an extortionate cost”.
“There is no evidence that an IV drip of any combination of vitamins can improve a woman’s fertility,” she said. “In promising hope to women at a very desperate time, we are concerned that, aside from providing no real benefit, these drips may be causing real damage to women’s emotional wellbeing.”
Preying on Anxiety and Fear
Infertility can be stressful and understanding treatment options can be confusing. That’s why it’s important to turn to reputable sources that aren’t simultaneously trying to sell you something. While prenatal vitamins are recommended by women’s health organizations and public health organizations (in particular, folic acid supplementation), I was unable to find any organization that recommends vitamins (or other supplements) administered intravenously to those trying to conceive. I was also unable to find any evidence that IV vitamin drips have any demonstrated value to support conception or can affect infertility at all. Unfortunately, these products appear to little more than exploit fears and offer false hope at significant cost, with no demonstrated benefit.