September 29, 2003
By Lisa Marshall, Camera Staff Writer
Jack Butler did it after he was diagnosed with West Nile Virus last month — he says his fever broke within 24 hours and a week later he felt fine.
Lisa Schaeffer does it when she has a migraine that won't go away — she says it stops the pain faster than any drug she's tried, and it costs far less.
Richard Schwarz has done it twice a week for two months — he says it helped him regain his strength after a chronic intestinal disorder caused him to drop 40 pounds and faint from exhaustion.
It's fast, fairly cheap and it comes with almost no side-effects, patients and doctors say.
Yet 30 years after a Maryland physician named John Myers started giving sick patients mega-doses of vitamins and minerals directly into their veins, intravenous vitamin therapy remains largely underused, proponents say.
"It's not patentable. There is no one out there who is going to make a lot of money on these ingredients, so it remains, in a sense, underappreciated," says Dr. Pierre Brunschwig, of Helios Health Centers in Boulder.
At Helios, one of just a handful of medical clinics across the state to offer intravenous nutrient infusions, about six patients a day drop by for a "Myers cocktail": an IV spiked with mega-doses of magnesium, vitamin C, calcium, B vitamins and other nutrients that assist adrenal function.
Patients seek the treatment for everything from halting a migraine or asthma attack to warding off cardiovascular disease or quelling chronic fatigue syndrome. A treatment costs $65 and lasts roughly 20 minutes. Aside from an occasional sting and a bit of light-headedness, there are no side effects, Brunschwig says.
While Helios sticks with the Myers cocktail combination, some clinics use IV infusions of just vitamin C to treat cancer patients. Research is also underway into treating multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and macular degeneration with various intravenous nutrients.
"There are a growing number of nutritionally based therapies that can be given intravenously," says Brunschwig.
So why not just eat a bunch of vitamins?
Brunschwig says nutritional deficiencies — stemming from poor diet, high stress or diseases that interfere with vitamin absorption — can often cause or exacerbate health problems. To replace those nutrients orally can take months and cause diarrhea.
Because IV therapy bypasses the digestive tract, patients can get up to 10 times as much in one treatment as they could take orally in a day. Quickly flooding the blood with nutrients drives them into the cells more efficiently than when they must be absorbed over time, Brunschwig says.
"What might take six months to a year to do orally you might be able to achieve in just a few months," says Brunschwig.
Dr. Andrea Cohen, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, says she has seen many small but promising studies examining intravenous vitamin C for cancer and IV magnesium for asthma, migraines and angina. Overall, results on their effectiveness have been mixed. But if given properly, they appear to be safe, she says.
She's intrigued, but not convinced.
"There are great anecdotal reports," she says. "It's time to do some larger studies in a rigorous controlled setting to get some final answers."
At Helios, the key ingredient in the Myers cocktail is magnesium, an element responsible for roughly 300 body processes, including the relaxation of smooth muscles that control blood vessels in the lungs, head and heart.
It's hard to get enough magnesium (found in nuts and dark leafy vegetables) through the diet, and the more stress we have, the more we secrete in our urine, doctors say. Studies have linked magnesium deficiency to a host of acute health problems related to spasms of smooth muscles, including asthma, migraines and angina. It also has been linked to many persistent illnesses, such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.
Brunschwig often tests patient magnesium levels and, if they are low, recommends a six- to eight-week IV program.
"If you have a magnesium deficiency, lots of body processes won't work. It's one of the dominoes that tips over in chronic disease and it is hard to pick back up," Brunschwig says.
Niels Schonbeck, 57, comes to Helios weekly for a Myers cocktail to treat his borderline hypertension. He says he always feels more energetic after a treatment, but it's too early to tell what the long-term impact will be.
"I'm going to try everything, because I want to avoid going on drugs," he says.
Lisa Schaeffer, 39, suffered excruciating 72-hour migraines for five years and went through numerous prescription pain medications before discovering Helios.
On her first trip there, she was in the throes of a bad episode.
"I was throwing up, I couldn't deal with anything. My husband had to drive me," she says.
Within 10 minutes of the therapy, the pain was gone. "For anyone who has been through the traditional route of coping with migraines, I would definitely recommend it," she says.
While proponents of intravenous vitamin therapies concede there is little research to back them up, that appears to be changing.
Two recent studies published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine looked at urban emergency rooms that use IV magnesium sulfate to treat migraines or asthma attacks. While falling short of a wholesale recommendation, both studies found the treatment to be safe and beneficial.
Cohen, who heads up the complementary and alternative medicine research program at the CU Cancer Center, says she has seen numerous studies suggesting that high doses of vitamin C, given intravenously, may help boost immune function and slow tumor growth in cancer patients without causing side effects. Because there is some concern that the therapy may interfere with other cancer treatments, she cautions anyone considering it to talk to their doctor first.
"There is not enough data to recommend that everyone go out and have this done right now, but further studies are being done," Cohen says.
Denver Dr. Thomas Levy is so impressed with the curative powers of high-dose vitamin C he recently published a 450-page book about it, including 1,200 references to scientific studies.
The book, "Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins; Curing the Incurable," (2002; Xlibris publishing) touts high-dose Vitamin C as the "ideal agent for killing any infecting virus," including influenza, the common cold, pneumonia and encephalitis.
Jack Butler, 67, is convinced. He went to Levy for intravenous vitamin C after falling ill with West Nile Virus and says he felt better almost instantly.
"There is nothing to it — no down side," he said. "If I were to get
really sick again, it is one of the first things I would do."
Copyright © 2003, The Daily Camera and the E.W. Scripps Company