Hype or hydration?

Erica Smith is a nurse practitioner at Renew IV Spa and Urgent Care Clinic on King Street. IV clinics or spas are sprouting up around the country and in Charleston.

An IV bag hangs on a coat rack nailed to the wall. It drips fluid down a thin, clear tube and into the patient’s arm.

But the patient isn’t in a hospital bed. They’re sitting on a plush, brown leather recliner, feet up, watching TV.

No hospital gowns, no white lab coats.

These patients have chosen a new path to wellness: a $69 IV treatment at Renew IV Spa and Urgent Care clinic.

Some medical professionals question the validity of these treatments — calling them unnecessary, at best — but Renew IV Spa, which opened in March, says more than 1,500 customers have already come through the doors of their second floor office on King Street.

Renew is Charleston’s only IV spa. A similar local clinic opened and closed within the past year and several others of its kind are popping up around the country.

The idea started in Las Vegas with a company called Hangover Heaven. Dr. Jason Burke, an anesthesiologist trained at Duke University, bought a bus to travel around the city and offered a cure for hangovers. His idea was that, through an IV, people could receive the proper hydration, medicines and vitamins needed to cure the ailments of a hangover in less than an hour.

Renew offers similar treatments, but Frank Wells and Matthew Erickson, who run the business in Charleston, say they’re focused on offering overall wellness to their customers, instead of just treating hangovers.

Wells said most Americans are chronically dehydrated, which can cause fatigue, dry skin, headaches, irritability and other symptoms.

He explained a one-liter IV bag delivers the equivalent of 2.5 gallons of water, plus vitamins, straight to the bloodstream. The body retains more liquid this way, he said, because the IV fluid bypasses the digestive system.

Erickson said the fluid and nutrients infused through the IV bag are largely present in the average patient’s diet.

“But we’re getting it into your body in a much more efficient manner,” he said.

Wells and Erickson said the risks associated with an IV are negligible. All their equipment is sterilized, reducing the threat of potential infection.

But some doctors and academics are skeptical of the treatment’s purported benefits.

Keith Borg, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, said there is no solid evidence that the treatment is better than taking fluids orally.

“Regular administration of IV fluids is not a standard medical procedure,” Borg said. “It’s a relatively safe thing, but certainly not something we would advise.”

Borg emphasized that humans have evolved to survive on a diet of fluids and nutrients consumed orally. Using an IV is placing an added risk on the patient.

And there’s a very real possibility of a placebo effect. Borg said.

“If you pay money and get an IV, and you feel better, then you feel better,” he said. “But feeling better is a subjective feeling. There’s no evidence from a medical standpoint.”

But Wells said Renew’s patients tell a different story. He estimated that about 50 percent of their customers come back.

Lindsay Louise Goodwin, 39, has been using the spa since it opened in March after hearing about it from a friend. Goodwin is a runner and was preparing for the Cooper River Bridge Run at the time of her first treatment. She got an IV the day before the run and said it was one of her best races. The effects lasted a little more than a week. She slept better, woke up easier, her skin looked better and her muscles felt less sore after her runs.

Goodwin said she gets an IV treatment about once or twice a month, but she would go every week if she could.

She dismissed the possibility of a placebo effect.

“This isn’t some unfounded or new medicine,” Goodwin said. “It’s been around forever.”

An IV treatment costs $69 at Renew and includes two added vitamins or medicines of the customer’s choice. Locals can purchase a VIP card for a one-time annual fee of $50, which allows them to receive a $20 discount for each IV treatment.

Renew also operates an urgent care clinic for people who feel ill. The clinic does not accept insurance and instead charges customers a flat $64 fee. VIP members also receive discounts on their urgent care visits.

“We have a passion for affordable, direct pay, convenient, great quality medical care and wellness care,” Wells said. “It’s definitely a need that Charleston has had for some time.”

Reach Alison Graham at 843-745-5555