Doctors warn of indulgence culture in professional sport: Top footballers use infusions before EVERY match despite risk to their health, doctors warn
- Athletes receive intravenous nutrition from drip sticks and “concierge” services.
- Doctors say there is little evidence that the drops actually benefit their performance
- But they are fast becoming the “norm” despite being “not worth the risk”
Intravenous drips are becoming standard in professional sports despite no evidence they work or are safe, doctors have warned.
Some footballers, basketball players and baseball players at top clubs in the UK and USA use them several times a week as part of their pre- or post-match routine.
Treatment involves nutrients such as B vitamins, amino acids and electrolytes – commonly found in a healthy diet – delivered directly into the blood intravenously.
They are supposed to make people feel less tired and revitalized, but there is no evidence to show that they work.
A group of international club doctors, including those from football teams Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, said players should be encouraged to eat healthier and stop using needles.
Once the preserve of expensive celebrity clinics, IV drips are now readily available, with some companies delivering them to people’s homes.
Others require customers to go to a high street salon, some of which are located in England’s biggest shopping centres.
Former Manchester City footballer Samir Nasri has been banned for six months after being caught using an IV in 2016.
Doctors said there was little evidence the drops actually benefited their performance, but warned they could cause long-term liver disease and nerve damage.
Doctors have warned that professional athletes are too often given intravenous drips of vitamins and minerals
What are the controversial vitamin drip clinics?
Vitamin drip clinics advertise a number of health and lifestyle benefits.
The practice involves slowly introducing a bag of fluid containing a cocktail of vitamins and minerals into your bloodstream through a needle and tube into your arm.
Depending on the flavor or specific drip bag infusion chosen, advertised benefits include boosting immunity, digestion, skin and hair health, and curing hangovers.
However, it is not without risks. Model Kendall Jenner was hospitalized in 2018 after a bad reaction to a Myers cocktail IV drip, made up of saline, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin C.
The rise of vitamin drops has prompted NHS England’s top doctor, Professor Stephen Powis, to warn the public of the potential danger they pose in 2019.
“Healthy people don’t need infusions. At best they are an expensive way to fill your bladder – and then flush hundreds of pounds down the toilet – but at worst they can cause significant damage to your health,” he said.
Previously, IV drips were only used as a “last resort” in sports for athletes suffering from anemia or severe hydration.
But they are fast becoming “the norm,” doctors write in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
They said that while the exact amount of IVs used by athletes around the world is unknown, anecdotal evidence suggests that some players use them before and after every match, in the most extreme cases.
Blood tests also indicate that many players have higher levels of specific nutrients associated with dripping – indicating regular use.
Editorial was co-authored by physicians from the Toronto Raptors basketball team, the San Francisco 49ers American football team, and the Dallas Mavericks baseball team.
The authors wrote: “IVN [nutrition] products are often used as a means to address tiredness, fatigue or recovery, but evidence is scarce and not supportive.”
But they added: “The long-term effects of supratherapeutic doses of B vitamins and other nutrients are unknown in athletes.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s worth the risk, especially given the lack of evidence-based benefits.”
Research suggests IV nutrition drips can cause long-term liver and nerve damage, doctors said.
Elevated levels of vitamin B6 are associated with peripheral neuropathy – a type of nerve damage that causes pain, numbness or weakness.
Meanwhile, parenteral iron infusions can lead to liver disease, they said.
In extreme cases, regular use of hangover drops can cause nausea and liver damage from a toxic overdose of vitamin A.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2007 found that athletes’ performance was unaffected by six weeks of bi-daily injections of B12 compared to a placebo.
And a 2020 paper in Nutrients found that there was no additional benefit from B12 injections above 700 pg/ml blood in a group of Polish athletes.