Vitamins and minerals are essential for our bodies to function optimally. However, unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking and the overconsumption of processed foods prevent the efficient absorption of such nutrients.
According to Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar, founder and executive chairman of PrimaNora Medical Centre, one-third of the world’s population suffers from a condition called “hidden hunger”, or nutritional deficiency despite having enough food.
“The food industry is not helping either. Many load their products with additives, colouring, preservatives, stabilisers and enhancers — you are actually eating chemicals,” she points out.
“A century ago, people died mostly from communicable diseases such as infections. Now, more and more people are dying from non-communicable diseases such as depression, hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cancer,” she says, adding that many of these conditions are due to what we eat.
Digestive disturbances, which produce symptoms like gas, bloating and constipation, have an impact on nutrient absorption. Without a healthy digestive system, the body may not be able to absorb all of the vitamins one consumes.
“An orange may only have about 80mg of vitamin C, but some supplements such as Redoxon have 1,000mg per tablet — that is more than 10 times the vitamin C of an orange. If your stomach is not clean, it does not detox regularly. Then, you may only be able to absorb 20% to 30% of the vitamin; the rest is naturally excreted out,” says Dr Roland Victor, medical director of The KL Sky Clinic.
In the last two decades, some methods have been introduced to help the body absorb more nutrients. One such method is Intravenous Nutritional Therapy (IVNT), where nutrients are injected directly into the bloodstream.
This allows the nutrients to bypass the digestive system, so the absorption rate is greater. “We are delivering the vitamins directly into your veins, so the entry and absorption is way higher,” says Victor.
This therapy not only allows a better absorption of nutrients but also produces an immediate effect, says Nor Ashikin. “By using an IV drip to provide you nutrients, the concentration is constant and you can feel the difference immediately after the treatment. In that sense, it is quicker, stronger and more effective than taking oral supplements.”
This type of treatment was pioneered by physician Dr John Myers in the 1960s. He had created a concoction of magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and vitamin B complex — which he named the Myers’ Cocktail — and fed it intravenously to his patients.
The treatment was made popular in 2002 by American Holistic Medical Association president Dr Alan Gaby in a review titled “Intravenous Nutrient Therapy: the Myers’ Cocktail”. The review said Gaby had modified Myer’s concoction and found it effective in the treatment of acute asthma attacks, migraines, fatigue, acute muscle spasms, upper respiratory tract infections, chronic sinusitis, seasonal allergic rhinitis and cardiovascular disease, among others.
Today, the Myers’ Cocktail is no longer made up of this specific blend of nutrients but customised to the needs of the patient.
IVNT has evolved rapidly over the years, especially in the US, where there are even drip bars and cafés.
A-listers such as Simon Cowell, Rihanna, Rita Ora and Katy Perry are said to be followers of this trend.
A preventive measure
IVNT has been widely used in Malaysia. It is given to patients who have asthma or severe migraines, or who have undergone chemotherapy, or who are in critical condition, to help the body heal faster.
Nor Ashikin, who is also a senior consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Pantai Medical Centre, says she gives IVNT to patients who have undergone surgeries to speed up the healing process. “These patients have gone through blood loss and traumatic changes in their body due to the surgery. I give them IVNT to help them with the recovery,” she adds.
“Particularly after a Caesarean section. I always ask them, ‘How is it now compared with your previous delivery when I did not give IVNT to you?’ They say it is better because they have less pain, more energy and can breastfeed almost immediately.
“Another patient had just undergone a major surgery. When I went to the ward 24 hours later, she was not there. She had actually got up from her bed to get coffee at Starbucks. This is because IVNT is really about energy production. When we give nutrients, it helps the liver clear the anaesthetic drugs and medication out of the system. So, they are not doped and groggy.
“They become alert and of course, the cellular repair is enhanced. That is why the recovery is faster. This is based on my own clinical experience with patients. Even the nurses tell me that my patients recover faster than others.”
Nor Ashikin says IVNT can be used as a preventive measure and not just as a remedial one. “It is all about boosting your immunity levels. If you go to a general practitioner when you have a virus, like the cold or the flu, you are usually given antibiotics.
“But antibiotics do not help; you are not going to get better. You will become resistant to the real infection. So, you need to focus on the immune system instead.”
This is where the treatment makes a difference and helps prevent these diseases from happening, says Nor Ashikin. Some parents, she adds, even ask her if their children can get IVNT to help them focus and prepare for upcoming examinations.
Victor says that most of the time, his patients come to him because of lethargy and fatigue. “My patients constantly travel, suffer from lack of sleep, and are overworked and tired. Some of them are athletes, whether professional, semi-professional or weekend warriors who push themselves to the point of burnout. So, they need to charge up and IVNT hastens this process. It is not a drug or doping, it is purely vitamins.”
Not just for beauty
IVNT is safe and painless. Patients are closely monitored by medical practitioners during treatment, which takes 30 to 45 minutes. Treatments can cost RM200 for a simple vitamin B drip or RM1,000 for a customised cocktail. The price and number of sessions depend on the patient’s condition and what they want to achieve.
An assessment is conducted before the treatment to determine the required dosage. Nor Ashikin says this includes a blood test and a diagnosis of the patient’s issues.
“After assessing the patient’s medical history, we do a quick physical examination, looking at the hands, nails, hair, eyes, skin, mouth, tongue and teeth, because all these show signs of any nutritional deficiencies,” she adds.
Patients can also opt to have their DNA profiled to get a more accurate picture of how much vitamins and minerals their body needs. Victor says this allows them to enjoy precise, personalised and customised treatments.
“The DNA profiling reveals what you lack such as Omega 3, 6 and 9, antioxidants, proteins, and even whether you have been exposed to toxic matter, radiation or chemicals. We are able to do a lot of tests. But sometimes a patient comes in and says, ‘I am really tired from jet lag’, so we give them a direct infusion. It really depends on their condition,” he adds.
However, it is very important for patients to understand that since IVNT uses only water-soluble vitamins, not all vitamins can be transmitted intravenously, says Victor. Only vitamins B and C are water-soluble. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, thus they have to be taken orally.
Nor Ashikin says while IVNT may be able to provide positive side effects such as a healthy glow in the patient’s skin, the treatment is definitely not for skin whitening, which is a popular misconception.
“When you have the right nutritional supplements for cellular repair and the detox process, your body will be clear of toxins and you will sport a healthier look. There will be fewer pigmentation spots on your body and your skin will glow. But it is not about making you fairer,” she points out.
The problem is, says Victor, some beauticians claim that the skin can be made 10 times lighter with IVNT. “Among the general public, there are similar practices that can cause cardiac arrest or even the destruction of your uterine wall,” he adds.
“There is a legally available drug called tranexamic acid that is used in emergencies to prevent excessive blood loss. But what do some beauticians do? They infuse it every other day, causing your blood to coagulate inside your heart and lungs. The worst thing for young females [if they do this often] is that it stops their menses and damages their wombs so they can no longer conceive.”
Victor says another misconception is that any form of IVNT is offered illegally, due to the number of people selling unregulated vitamin drips online at very cheap prices. “This misperception is caused by those who are not supposed to infuse such unregulated vitamins [to patients] but yet do it. But not all of us are doing it illegally. [At KL Sky Clinic, our] products are all approved by the Ministry of Health.”
Nor Ashikin stresses that IVNT is a good alternative for people looking to improve their nutrient intake and they will definitely reap the benefits if they are properly guided. “I have a patient who had been on anti-depressants for 20 years and now, after 2½ months [of IVNT] she is drug-free and one of the happiest people on earth,” she says.
“I have many patients who have high blood pressure, and you say it’s for life? Even my mom is drug-free now. Why? Because her body has got what it needs to function and it is like she is young again.
“Many elderly people do not get what their body needs to function properly, so it deteriorates. That is oxidative stress and ageing. But when you give [the body] all these [nutrients], it is able to slow down the wear and tear and the oxidation process. While this does not ensure you eternal life, at least you will not suffer along the way.”
This article first appeared in Personal Wealth, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 20 – June 26, 2016.