Her lips are pursed tightly together in premonition. She looks to her right, away from her left arm outstretched on the plush, white lounge chair. She squints slightly, smiles briefly, and refuses to watch as a tiny needle is injected into her vein just below the inner crease of her elbow. It's over in mere moments, akin to the prick that comes with a blood draw or an intravenous drip. It is an intravenous drip, in fact, but this isn't a hospital or even a traditional doctor's office, and certainly not a blood bank.
"Now I'll read my book," the woman says, gesturing to the iPad across her lap. "They have iPads here, too. Or sometimes I'll watch TV."
She looks up at Dr. Brent Cameron, a curly-haired naturopathic physician, who is monitoring her from across the room.
"I can already taste it in the back of my mouth," she says.
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Leslie Zelisko is getting an intravenous vitamin treatment. The 50-year-old, who looks fresh-faced and boasts about her "good veins," has been receiving these therapies at The Drip Room since the business opened its doors last November. Though her face may have betrayed some initial apprehension at the prospect of being poked with a needle, Zelisko, who is married to Valley concert promoter Danny Zelisko, says she routinely drops by to get the clinic's energy, immunity, and detox treatments -- anywhere from once a week to once every 10 or 14 days.
Marketed as the Valley's first IV vitamin hub, The Drip Room, located at 4251 North Brown Avenue, is hidden within the folds of Old Town Scottsdale -- directly around the corner from Firehouse, an anchor in the club scene where, on even the most average of Friday or Saturday nights, it's far from surprising to see women in heels stumbling on sidewalks and men in button-ups clinging to bottles of beer. Look down the street in either direction to see bars like Shotgun Betty's hiding in plain sight among unassuming businesses.
The interior beyond The Drip Room's camouflaged façade looks like any number of day spas in the area. Six large massage chairs line the walls -- one mirrored, one taken up by a large television screen, two adorned with white faux moose and deer heads. Four colorful oxygen bar tanks occupy a crisp white table in front of the big screen, which today splays highlights from sporting events and celebrity exploits.
But the experience is inherently a social one, explains Shirley Kelly, a registered nurse who founded and co-owns The Drip Room. Kelly, whose background is in the field of cosmetic surgery, likens the atmosphere to that of a salon and refers to her clients -- she prefers the term "client" over "patient" -- as "early adopters, ahead of the curve."
Kelly opened the business in late 2013 with the help of Dr. Cameron, a naturopathic physician who also operates a private practice in Gilbert, and her husband, Ross Cobb.
The venture is licensed under Cameron, and all potential recipients of the treatment must provide their medical history and undergo blood work and a physical exam before their first dose. Despite the comfortable vibe, it becomes immediately and abundantly clear: This is a treatment program based in an alternative form of medicine. This is not a business attempting to profit off of an alleged trend.
The idea came to Kelly as an aid for what she and Cameron refer to as "modern day problems." Fatigue is a big complaint, so the two have addressed this through a line of vitamin cocktails created to give clients the boost they're searching for. The duo plans to start offering a new line in spring.
Currently, The Drip Room features a variety of therapies. There's the traditional B12 shot, an injection directly into the skin, for $20, and oxygen therapies, also $20. Hydration and Party drips, arguably the most talked about when it comes to these types of practices, are $99. The other 10 drips are $149 per cocktail -- and many clients choose to add a glutathione boost for an extra jolt.
Of the 10, three are the stereotypical drips that tend to be associated with conversations about intravenous therapy: Detox, Extreme Party, and the Myers drips. The rest, which include Calming, Anti-Aging, Immunity, Mega Vitamin, Energy, Recovery, and Weight Loss, were all designed with a new crop of clients in mind.
The vitamin bar estimates it's seen as many as 500 patients, both Kelly and Cobb say. Nearly 30 percent of the clientele are members -- a $39.99 per month package that decreases the price of all drips by about $50.
The vitamins are absorbed directly into the bloodstream, the quantities are greater than the Recommended Dietary Allowance minimum, and any medical treatments are governed by Arizona Naturopathic Physician Medical Board. The practice is safe, both Cameron and Kelly assure clients, and any mild discomfort at the thought of sticking an IV willingly into one's veins is easily swayed by the benefits of increased energy and mental alertness.
And it's catching on. The company boasts more than 5,000 "likes" on Facebook, and new clients are walking in every day, largely thanks to word-of-mouth from those who swear by their religious use of the IV procedure.
Cameron, who hails from Ontario, Canada, and received his credentials from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, says he prefers to treat clients using these kind of therapies. Not only do they deal with the cause of ailments, he says, but it allows him the opportunity to take the whole person into consideration -- a truly "holistic" approach as opposed to the average 15 minutes doctors tend to spend with their patients hearing symptoms.
Creating the drips himself offers him the opportunity to tailor drips to individuals, getting to the heart of the problem. Cameron, 28, has been seeing patients for five years and, though he's relatively young, he insists he's eager to learn and committed to cause-based treatment.
The most prevalent issue regarding intravenous vitamins, however, is the lack of research and direct correlation between the experience and actual health benefit. Both Cameron and Kelly frequently refer to client testimony when describing the results of the visits. There are next to no medical studies to back up these claims.
Around 2 p.m. on the Monday after the Super Bowl, three men come into the clinic, drop-ins for drips to cure result the weekend's festivities.
"They're getting three Extreme Party Drips," Cameron says, smiling slightly. "They're on their way to Mexico."
During a conversation the following week, both Zelisko and client Chad Knudson admit each of their first elective IV experience was of a similar variety, to rid themselves of one commonplace problem that anyone who has ever had one too many can sympathize with: a hangover. Enter The Detox.
"I almost puked in the parking lot on the way in," Knudson says, laughing. It was a bad one, but mere minutes after his detox treatment (which Zelisko also describes as "taking care of my liver") on his way back outside Knudson says he felt completely better.
Now Knudson, the 34-year-old founder and owner of D'lish, a healthy on-the-go kitchen with locations in Tempe and Scottsdale, says he gets treatments once a week -- though not necessarily in response to drinking.
Despite the stereotype that IV vitamins are primarily used as a post-party treatment, both Cameron and Kelly say that they hardly make up the bulk of their business. The Detox, Extreme Party, and Recovery drips (though the latter is used primarily for highly active people, not those with a high blood alcohol content) include higher levels of magnesium, hydration therapy, and combination vitamins and are meant to replenish the body.
Yet at press time, there have been no known studies linking intravenous vitamin use to a reduction in the presence or prevalence of hangover "cures." The trend, made famous through Instragram photos of celebrities like Rihanna, Michelle Rodriguez, and Cara Delevingne with tubes in their arms, has become nearly synonymous with the party scene -- touted in clinics in Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, and now Scottsdale.
Kelly insists that the decision to operate out of Scottsdale was done for convenience, a central location, not a club destination. She balks at the idea of hangover cures being the main reason for seeking out treatments.
"It's situational," Kelly says.
Out of every 10 patients the center sees, maybe one receives the Extreme Party combination, she says. During the week preceding the Super Bowl, the same weekend of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, these types of treatments made up approximately 10 to 14 percent of The Drip Room's business.
The most requested drips tend to be the Energy Drip, an extra boost of B5, B6 and B12 vitamins, and the Immunity Drip, which focuses on the problems of repeated illness and depleted immune systems through higher concentrations of zinc and vitamin C.
Kelly says a common complaint among clients is a feeling of fatigue, sluggishness, and a lack of focus. The Drip Room is more concerned with what both Cameron and Kelly refer to as "the walking well" among their patrons, transcending the bare minimum of medicine ("I'm sick" vs. "I'm not") to a constant feeling of "I'm great!"
There's not a pill for everything, Kelly says, and there's a paradigm shift in the way people are approaching their health.
"Traditional medicine tends to have a 'this is the way we've always done it' mindset," she says. But that doesn't mean there's a lot of pushback from the medical community when it comes to the intravenous therapies, and any concern can be attributed to a lack of awareness, she says.
She's constantly surprised when she hears IV vitamins referred to as a "trend."
"I call it the oldest new fad," she says.
The first intravenous vitamin treatment of record was created by John Myers, an MD from Baltimore, Maryland, and used throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. The combination therapy, aptly named "The Myers Cocktail," includes varying quantities of magnesium, calcium, and vitamins B and C. The initial trials of these vitamins were administered through a slow IV push, similar to what Cameron and Kelly use in their clinic, using a 10 milliliter syringe.
Traditionally, the ratio is two to five parts magnesium chloride hexahydrate, one to three parts calcium gluconate and four to 20 parts vitamin C, with other nutrients added on a case-by-case basis at the doctor's discretion. Though few trial reports have been published, there is ample anecdotal evidence stating the intravenous vitamins are effective against acute infections, migraines, fatigue, and respiratory ailments among others.
Myers died in 1984, but this practice has continued to be used across the medical community: a reported 1,000 doctors in the United States, including both traditional Western medicine and naturopathic physicians, treat patients with some form of the therapy.
Cameron and Kelly prefer the intravenous method because it allows a higher dosage of vitamins to be injected directly into the blood stream, bypassing other bodily channels, like the digestive tract, that may strip down or use up nutrients or take longer to achieve the desired effect. They produce a higher antioxidant and higher antiviral content.
The two still advocate for routine oral supplements to up one's vitamin intake, such as day-to-day multivitamins and larger doses of vitamin C.
"You can tweak them depending on what your body needs," says Zelisko, the Paradise Valley resident in for a treatment. "[And] I always feel better than when I came in."
That seemed to be the general consensus during an earlier conversation between her and Knudson, the client from Scottsdale.
Knudson has been receiving these types of treatments for a year since first being introduced to naturopathic hydrotherapies. Now he religiously comes in for a hydrated immunity drip, adding a glutathione boost every other time and supplementing with a traditional Myers' drip, a mixture of vitamins B and C, every seven to 10 sessions.
The Medical Community
Carol Johnston, Ph.D, a registered dietician and professor and associate director of the nutrition program at Arizona State University's School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, has a similar view. Johnston, whose personal research interests include the effects and relationships of vitamin C, notes that the vitamin supplement industry brings in more than $12 billion annually -- and that celebrity endorsements are an essential marketing tactic to ensure that economic activity.
"There is little to no scientific validation for intravenous vitamin therapy for hang-overs," Johnston writes in an e-mail, after conducting her own searches through the U.S. National Institutes of Health Clinical Trials database and Pubmed, a research search engine preferred by scientists. "But, in general, vitamin C seems to be the vitamin holding the greatest interest of the scientific community. Eventually the research will demonstrate whether this strategy is useful therapy."
Morgan Liscinsky, spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says that while the regulatory agency does not have the power to answer questions regarding a specific business or individual medical practices or use within that business, the FDA does have overarching standards for such therapies.
"Intravenous vitamins have a clear FDA approved indication: 'prevention of vitamin deficiency in adults and children aged 11 and older receiving parenteral nutrition,'" she writes in an e-mail to Jackalope Ranch.
"Injecting vitamins directly into the blood stream will result in much higher (by 100 fold plus) concentrations in blood that could be achieved by oral ingestion. The gut is a great gatekeeper -- it will control the amount of the nutrient that can enter blood, an important safety feature of the human body," Johnston writes.
"There are no regulations for supplement quality (pills or intravenous preparations) -- meaning consumers cannot be absolutely confident about the purity or identity of what is in a bottle or bag," she continues. "As a consumer, I would ask these facilities for the scientific research validating their therapies since the risk for toxicity is so much greater for IV administration of vitamins as compared to oral administration."
The lack of outright regulation of vitamin products could result in a higher susceptibility to health risks through use of these types of therapies, but the research is spotty. Most health concerns are attributed to issues with products that have not yet been approved for consumer use by the FDA. All of the vitamins used in The Drip Room's concoctions have been approved for individual use.
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"Risks associated with the use of unapproved products are related to contaminant bacteria/fungi (local and systemic infections), toxicity (if the dose is too high, depends on specific vitamins), undertreatment [sic] of patients who are indeed vitamin deficient (if the dose is too low), unknown reactions related to impurities, degradation products, contaminants, leachables (from containers), etcetera," Liscinsky writes.
Over the course of multiple interviews and conversations, the concept of intravenous vitamins being safe is the one constant both Cameron and Kelly insist upon. Above being business owners, both are trained in the medical field -- and that kind of oath and commitment to wellness transcends any notion of "fad" science.
The Drip Room is located at 4251 North Brown Avenue in Old Town Scottsdale. Treatments range from $20 for oxygen and B12 shots, to $99 to $149 for intravenous treatments. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Contact the office by phone at 480-725-0466 or visit online at www.thedriproom.com.