Once a week for nearly a year a Winnipeg naturopath hooked Yvonne Datzkiw up to an intravenous bag containing vitamin C.
An hour later -- after 50,000 milligrams of the liquified vitamin had trickled directly into her veins -- the 18-year-old felt energized. She was ready to take on a traditional and more daunting medical treatment also administered intravenously: Chemotherapy.
Datzkiw, a Maples Collegiate graduate diagnosed with stage 4B lymphoma in November 2012, is convinced her IV vitamin C -- a controversial, alternative treatment -- made her chemotherapy sessions more tolerable.
"(After) my first chemo, the smell of food made me sick. I didn't want to get out of bed. I needed anti-nausea stuff," says Datzkiw.
Two days later, after her mother's online research found vitamin C administered by IV could boost her well-being and even help fight her cancer, the teen decided to give it a try along with her traditional medications.
Two weeks later she had her second session of chemotherapy, a noxious brew of chemicals that destroys cancer cells as well as healthy body cells.
"The negative effects from it were way less. I felt normal, almost," says the teen, whose doctor told her earlier this month she appears to be cancer-free. Her malignant tumours had apparently disappeared.
Most would argue Datzkiw's dozen chemo sessions are what helped her beat cancer, but she's convinced the vitamin C played a large role, even though her oncologist warned her the effects of high doses of vitamin C on chemotherapy is unknown and she could consider ending her IV sessions with the naturopath.
"I know that cancer can't be beaten alone with vitamin C. It's basically boosting the work of the chemo because it's (got) its own natural way of killing the cancer," says the young cancer survivor. "But I'm not really sure of the specifics of it."
Mega-dosing vitamins through an IV drip is nothing new -- it was nearly 50 years ago when Baltimore physician Dr. John Myers invented the so-called Myers' Cocktail, a combination of IV vitamins C and B as well as calcium and magnesium to treat various medical conditions.
The therapy never caught on with medical doctors because of the lack of repeated scientific proof it actually worked.
Nevertheless, dripping concentrated doses of micronutrients directly into the bloodstream is one of the newest trends to hit Hollywood. Pop singer Rihanna reportedly enjoys Myers' Cocktails, recently dubbed the "Party Girl Drip."
X Factor judge Simon Cowell relishes his weekly drip containing vitamins C, B12, magnesium and -- according to a 2011 interview with GQ -- "something for your liver."
"When you have it done, it's an incredibly warm feeling," Cowell told the magazine. "You feel all the vitamins going through you. It's indescribable, but very calming, and then it gives you energy for a good few days afterwards."
In Las Vegas, a physician who operates a clinic called Hangover Haven, says on his website his vitamin drips can "cure" hangovers. He even offers treatments on his mobile bus. If that's not adequate, he'll even come to your Vegas hotel room.
Naturopath Sean Ceaser has administered IV vitamins to Winnipeggers since he started his career 14 years ago.
Ceaser, who also has a clinic in Victoria, B.C., says he's fielding more calls than ever about IV vitamins. His typical patients aren't partygoers trying to kick hangovers, rather, they are people with serious medical concerns ranging from chronic fatigue to chronic pain to fibromyalgia to multiple chemical sensitivities to cancer.
"It's just this freedom to access any kind of information that you can. People say, 'I've been through the whole system. I've tried everything. Nothing's worked,'" says Ceaser. "We offer many different IV therapies. It's not only vitamins. We do mineral therapies... we do IV chelation therapies."
The cost is about $150 a treatment.
Why not just take a multivitamin? Ceaser says it's all about dose. A typical vitamin C tablet might contain 500 mgs of the antioxidant, Ceaser administers anywhere from 25,000 mgs to 100,000 mgs of vitamin C to his patients.
The digestive system would not tolerate such doses orally, he says, noting that administering vitamins through a vein allows it to bypass digestion and act immediately.
"We want vitamin C to get to the cell, especially in cancer, to have (its) effect. You need the blood level up to a very high level of vitamin C you can't get with just taking it orally," he says.
Winnipeg naturopath Gordon Sims has been offering vitamin IV therapy for about the same amount of time as Ceaser. While most of his patients take it to help with serious medical issues, some of his patients use it to boost their immune system and to "stay well," he says.
Others, including amateur athletes such as himself, use to it combat periods of physical stress and boost their energy before a sporting event.
"I enjoy running half-marathons and I will not uncommonly have a Myer's Cocktail a day or two before that race -- and that helps me," says Sims.
Critics say IV vitamin consumers are being duped when they pay for water-soluble nutrients such as vitamins B and C that are excreted in urine when taken in excess. To that, Ceaser has an answer. "What happens is that it does get urinated out. There's no two ways about it, he says, adding his IV drips keep vitamins in high concentrations in the blood for at least three hours so they can do their work.
Dr. John Hoffer, a professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal who has studied the effects of high doses of IV vitamin C on cancer, says none of his research turned up "terribly exciting" results. He noted vitamin C didn't appear to shrink tumours or reverse cancer, though it does appear to be safe.
That doesn't mean IV vitamin C can't prolong the lives of cancer patients, says the researcher and physician, who has analyzed and written about several cancer-patient cases in which the antioxidant nutrient appears to have helped.
Exactly how? The average person knows vitamin C to be an antioxidant, a substance that destroys free radicals and protects cells from cancer.
Hoffer says in the high doses achieved through IVs, vitamin C actually generates free radicals that damage cancer cells, yet protect non-cancerous cells.
He says physicians, while maintaining a healthy skepticism, need to pay closer attention to research into the effects of nutrition on disease.
But are patients safe receiving IV treatments from naturopaths?
"There are certain risks for people going into the clinics and getting these intravenous treatments, but if there are risks, they're not screaming into our emergency departments, so it seems unlikely that these patients are having bad consequences," Hoffer says.
Health Canada spokeswoman Blossom Leung says the federal health regulator has not approved intravenous vitamin C formulations, nor has it approved the practice of naturopaths administering vitamin IV therapy and, therefore, "can't comment on its safety."
Helen Kehler doesn't worry about what the establishment says.
The retired homemaker, who lives outside of Winnipeg, says chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia left her with painful, achy joints and a medicine cabinet full of painkillers. She has finally found relief from her pain, thanks, in part, to an IV vitamin cocktail administered by Ceaser, she says.
"The best way to describe it is an all-round wellness of just feeling great," she says. "And I was skeptical."
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