Doctors warn of ‘needle-happy’ culture in professional sports

Doctors warn of needle-happy culture in professional sports: Top footballers are using IV drips before EVERY game despite risk to their health, doctors warn

  • Athletes receive intravenous nutrition from drip bars and ‘concierge’ services
  • Doctors say there is little evidence the drips actually benefit their performance 
  • But they are fast becoming ‘the norm’ despite not being ‘worth the risk’

IV drips are becoming the norm in professional sports despite no proof they work or are safe, doctors have warned.

Some footballers, basketballers and baseball players at top clubs in the UK and US are using them multiple times a week as part of their pre or post game routine.

The treatment involve nutrients such as B vitamins, amino acids and electrolytes — normally found in healthy food — being supplied directly to the blood intravenously. 

They are supposed to make people feel less tired and revitalised, but there is no evidence to show they work. 

A group of international club doctors, including from football teams Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, said players should be encouraged to have a healthier diet and stop using needles.

Once the preserve of costly celebrity clinics, IV drips are now easily accessible, 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 was banned for six months after being caught using an IV drip in 2016.

Doctors said there is little evidence the drips actually benefit their performance but warned they could cause long-term liver disease and nerve damage. 

Professional athletes are being given IV drips with vitamins and minerals far too often, doctors have warned

What are controversial vitamin drip clinics? 

Vitamin drip clinics advertise a number of health and lifestyle benefits.

The practice involves having a bag of fluid containing a cocktail of vitamins and minerals slowly fed into your bloodstream via a needle and tube into your arm. 

Depending on the flavor or particular infusion of drip bag chosen, the advertised benefits include boosting immunity, digestion, the health of your skin and hair, and curing hangovers.

It is not without risks however. Model Kendall Jenner was hospitalised in 2018 following a bad reaction to a Myers cocktail IV drip, made up of saline solution, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin C. 

The rise of vitamin drips prompted NHS England’s top doctor Professor Stephen Powis to warn the public about the potential dangers posed by them back in 2019. 

‘People who are healthy do not need IV drips. 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 had only been used as a ‘last resort’ in sport for athletes suffering with anaemia or severe hydration.

But they are fast becoming ‘the norm’, the medics write in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

They said while the precise amount of IV drips being used by athletes across the world is not known, anecdotal evidence suggests some players are using them before and after every match, in the most extreme cases.

Blood tests also suggest many players have higher levels of specific nutrients associated with the drips – suggesting regular use.

The editorial was co-authored by doctors from the Toronto Raptors basketball, San Francisco 49ers American football and Dallas Mavericks baseball teams. 

The authors wrote: ‘IVN [nutrition] products are often used as a means of addressing tiredness, fatigue, or recovery, but the evidence is sparce and not supportive.’

But they added: ‘The long-term effects of supratherapeutic doses of B vitamins and other nutrients are unknown in athletes.

‘It does not appear to be worth the risk, especially given the lack of evidence-based benefits.’

Research suggests IV nutrition drips can cause long-term damage to the liver and nerves, the medics said.

Increased Vitamin B6 levels have been linked with peripheral neuropathy — a type of nerve damage that cause pain, numbness or weakness.

Meanwhile, infusions of parenteral iron can lead to liver disease, they said.

In extreme cases, regularly resorting to drips for hangover cures can cause nausea and liver damage due to a toxic overdose of vitamin A. 

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2007 found athletes performance were not affected in anyway by six weeks of B12 injections every two days compared to a placebo.

And a 2020 paper in Nutrients found  there was no additional benefit of B12 injections above 700 pg/mL in the blood in a group of Polish track and field athletes.