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Vitamins: Are They for You? Dr. Peter Rice

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I ran into my friend Michael as I walked across campus a few weeks ago.  Mike had been feeling poorly the previous few weeks with swollen parotid glands, the glands under the jaws.  The remarkable story from the encounter was that Mike had a vitamin injection and experienced a profound recovery within just a few hours.  

A few weeks ago I wrote about my recovery from hernia surgery and linked some time-lapse photos of rebuilding the World Trade Center in New York City. At the time I thought of the importance of nutrition and wondered what would happen if one or more of the building blocks was missing.  Mike’s experience made me think again about the importance of good nutrition to good health.

Of course, being the pharmacist, I had to get the recipe for the intravenous vitamin infusion and think about its implications for patients. The infusion was named a “Myers Cocktail”, and contained calcium and magnesium, glutathione, and a number of B vitamins. The infusion is named for Baltimore physician John Myers, who pioneered treatment with intravenous vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin Injection

I was interested in surmising how each of the ingredients might help a patient and which might be responsible for the dramatic improvement in health.

This made for interesting conversation among my pharmacist colleagues. I did not believe that the calcium would do much; this patient was unlikely to be calcium deficient.  Magnesium, however, is commonly low in patients.  It’s hard to provide oral supplements of magnesium, since magnesium often causes diarrhea.  Intravenously, it is possible to give lots more magnesium, and I would expect it to help patients relax. My friend Sue, a compounding pharmacist, suggests oral magnesium glycinate to her patients, and it often seems to help with sleep.

B vitamins can help patients feel more energetic.  It was surprising to find them in the vitamin infusion, because so many foods are supplemented with B vitamins that unless there are absorption issues, I would not expect most patients to be B-vitamin deficient. Nevertheless, B vitamins can be useful oral supplements. I consider them useful and benign and often suggest them to patients.

Finally, the infusion had an antioxidant called glutathione.  

  • Glutathione is produced in cells from three amino acids: glutamate, glycine and cysteine.
  • Glutathione is a catalyst and reactant in many biological reactions.
  • Although supplementation of glutathione is unusual in healthy patients, glutathione can be administered by inhalation for pulmonary disease and by intramuscular or intravenous injection to protect against cell toxicity causes by cancer chemotherapy.

Mike’s interest in drug metabolism – glutathione is VERY important in that – made him very enthusiastic about finding it in the infusion.  I can agree, given that foods containing glutathione are poorly absorbed since glutathione is broken down in stomach acid.

I expect that vitamin infusions are safe; the question is whether they are effective.  In research studies, vitamin infusions tend to have high placebo activity; patients who received an IV without vitamins often responded as well as the patients who received the vitamin infusion. I’m seriously considering going along with Mike to try my own vitamin infusion the next time he goes.  Maybe a vitamin infusion is right for you, but maybe you’d benefit from an oral supplement with some vitamins you might need.  Whichever it is, talk to your prescriber or pharmacist; they are there to help you take care of yourself.


Alan R. Gaby: Intravenous Nutrient Therapy: the “Myers Cocktail”

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Dr. Peter J. Rice

Dr. Peter J. Rice is a professor of Pharmacology emeritus at the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine and Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He received his BS in pharmacy from Northeastern University, PhD in pharmacology from the Ohio State University and PharmD from the University of Kentucky. He is a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist and practices in the ambulatory care and community pharmacy settings. Professor Rice is the author of Understanding Drug Action: An introduction to pharmacology (APhA, 2014) and is a fellow of the American Pharmacists Association.




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