Hydrations clinics gain popularity but face skeptics

Some who enter these dimly lit private suites are seeking relief from hangovers. Others are battling colds or feelings of sluggishness.

They come to this Atlanta clinic, dotted with flickering candles, hoping to feel better. Each person is soon hooked up to a bag of fluid via a needle in the arm.

“It’s the hot new thing,” said Nat Brown, a local makeup artist looking to soothe a hangover. “We live big lives, and we were out late last night.”

Brown and two pals eagerly forked over $120 each at the recently opened Hydro-clinic in Buckhead.

About 2 p.m. one recent afternoon, mortgage brokers and a working mom occupied other private rooms that have reclining chairs, flat screened TVs and soft blankets.

Hydration clinics are the latest trend in wellness in Atlanta and across the country. Those who believe in these IV clinics say intravenously delivering fluids, vitamins and medications into the bloodstream cures hangovers and provides relief from everything from jet lag to fatigue to flu-like symptoms.

With names such as Hangover Heaven and The Remedy Room, hydration clinics are popping up from Los Angeles to Miami. Hydro-clinic in Atlanta opened up on January 1, counting on business from those who over-indulged New Year's Eve. That day, about 150 people flooded the clinic, which can serve 16 at a time. During the coming months, Hydro-clinic plans to expand and open up more clinics in Las Vegas, Nashville and Dallas.

Atlanta is also home to Hydration Station, which opened up about a year ago in the Buckhead area and plans to open up a second location in Brookhaven by April.

At Hydro-clinic, each person gets a 34-ounce bag of fluids, which contains a recipe of various minerals and vitamins. The $29 hydro-life includes a mix of sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride and lactate. The $99 hydro-detox includes essential minerals and vitamins, including vitamins C and B complex. Hangover sufferers get a dose of toradol mixed in, which is essentially a cousin of ibuprofen, and also anti-nausea and heartburn drugs.

Dr. Bobby Kaufmann, medical director and co-owner of Hydro-Clinic, said their treatments for some conditions are a good alternative to a visit to the emergency room, where patients may endure long waits and expensive bills.

Kaufmann, an internist in private practice, got the idea when he was visiting Miami a year and a half ago and spotted one. Over the years, he himself turned to IV fluids for pick-me-ups. During his medical residency in the mid to late 1980s, he occasionally got IV fluids after working 36-hour shifts. He envisions his clinic helping elite athletes wanting to be properly hydrated before or after a big race, busy moms, as well as the jet lagged or those suffering from a hangover.

But experts challenge whether people should dole out money for these treatments, which carry risks, such as infections from punctures and complications, while they may not be more effective than over-the-counter-medications, rest, a meal and drinking water.

Dr. Ziad Kazzi, an Emory University medical toxicologist, said that, besides carrying a risk of infection, the IV treatments could be dangerous. For example, people who have heart or kidney disease should not get IV fluid without proper monitoring. The fluid can accumulate in the body and cause breathing problems.

While IV clinics’ hangover remedies may help people feel better — easing muscle aches and nausea — the drugs mixed into the solutions have potentially serious side effects, according to Kazzi. Even essential minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, can be dangerous in too high doses.

For those suffering from food poisoning and other ailments needing IV fluids, Kazzi recommends people pass on an IV hydration clinic and opt to be seen by a doctor.

Dr. Marc Leavey, of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, said people with cases of dehydration severe enough to call for intravenous re-hydration, there is likely another underlining medical issue causing that problem. IV fluids require careful monitoring of the body, including sugar levels and heart and kidney functioning. And, Kazzi said, if a person is capable of drinking fluids by mouth, there is no reason for an IV.

Furthermore, Kazzi and Leavey said the body has the ability to naturally regulate water absorption and can absorb water quickly.

Owners of Hydro-clinic and Hydration Station both maintain the vitamin and mineral content in their treatments falls well within the range deemed safe by medical experts. Hydro-clinic does not release exact amounts, saying the blends are propriety. Hydration Station releases the amount of each substance upon request.

Kazzi added that someone may be feeling run down and it have nothing to do with being dehydrated.

“Think about why you aren’t feeling well. Maybe you are exhausted from getting too little sleep and you need sleep and rest,” he said. “Maybe you are achy because you caught a cold going around.”

Keith McDermott, owner of Hydration Station, doesn’t dispute people can recover from jet lag, hangovers and other woes with home remedies, but said hydration clinics are designed for people who have little time to recover.

“A lot of people don’t have time to sleep, relax and take an Advil and wait for it to reach their digestive tract,” he said. “This provides immediate relief for the mom and dad who had one too many glasses of wine but need to coach the son’s soccer game the next day or the business executive who has a big meeting but ate a bad clam and is doubled over the commode.

If you do need water, Kazzi said the solution is often simple: drink water. In general, six to eight glasses of water everyday should be sufficient, he said. If it’s hot and you are jogging and sweating, people may need to drink more fluids.

So how do you know if someone is really dehydrated? At Hydro-clinic, potential clients list symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea and headache. Kaufmann said it’s easy to know after the treatment if the person was truly dehydrated. If they don’t experience relief, it’s clear something else is going and they need medical attention.

Meanwhile, clients recently interviewed at Hydro-clinic swear by hydration treatments.

Meia Walton, a 32-year-old local business owner, turned to hydration therapy multiple times in recent years while traveling to Los Angeles for work.

“I drink water all day long, but I feel so energized after the treatment,” she said. “I feel like new.”

Walton, who sips wheat grass shots on a regular basis, said she sees hydration therapy as being part of her overall wellness.

In a nearby room, 37-year-old David Land, a mortgage broker, said hydration therapy helps him quickly feel better.

“If I go out late Saturday night and feel hung over on Sunday, I get this treatment, and 30 minutes, I feel better. I don’t have to lose my whole Sunday.”

On this recent afternoon, Land was feeling a little weak and believed he might be in the earliest stages of cold. After 45 or so minutes of the drip, he planned to go work out.

And then there was Susan Bryant, a 43-year-old interior designer and mom of two boys ages, 8 and 10. She tried hydration therapy for the first time on New Year’s Day. She was joined by a group of girlfriends.

Immediately after the treatment, she didn’t feel any differently.

“But the next day, I just popped out of bed,” she said.