Stars Seek Jabs for Quick Health Fix

A sore throat. A stuffy nose. The body aches and pains that accompany the common cold.

For the average person, such symptoms might be an invitation to don a comfy robe, crash on the couch, and find something entertaining on TV.

The Oscars, for example.

But for the stars that will be making their way down the red carpet at the Academy Awards Sunday night, the hallmarks of the common cold may be an uncommon nuisance.

So a few celebrities may be going one step further than conventional cold remedies to ensure that they are in the pink of health. Some say injections of vitamin B-12 are an effective remedy for stars feeling under the weather.

It's an unconventional treatment. And even the doctors who offer it say it has no scientific backing, which means the shots may merely be a placebo measure that has no real health benefit whatsoever.

The Health Risks of Stardom

While for most of us, it's allowable to look like death warmed over for a couple of days, many high-profile stars simply have no time to look like death warmed over.

"It's not that there is in general this trend toward being sicker if you are a celebrity," says Dr. Scott Kessler, a New York physician who has treated a number of stars in the days leading up to the Grammys and other award events.

"There's just an urgency and a need to be better, and fast. These patients often require a more aggressive medical approach than otherwise would be necessary."

On the occasion of an awards event, Kessler says his clinic fills up fast and stays open late. It seems that even though stars don't necessarily fall ill more often than the rest of us, awards season can be particularly hazardous for celebrities due to the extended hours they often spent on airplanes and other demands of the profession.

"Another aspect of that kind of celebrity gathering is that they are all kissing and smooching and hugging," Kessler says. "There is a lot of contact between those in the industry, none of whom are probably in particularly the best of health."

The respiratory infections that result from these gatherings could have unfortunate implications for stars who need to look good, even under the glare of the spotlight.

"If you have to look perfect, if you have to be on camera, you have to get rid of [cold symptoms] quick," Kessler says. "The consequences of illnesses play a bigger role in the lives of stars, who can't afford to have swollen eyes, congestion or other symptoms."

A Vitamin Shot for Health

Many of the treatments stars receive for their sniffles and sore throats should sound familiar to the general public. Cough drops, decongestants and antibiotics are important -- though mundane -- first-line treatments for most celebrity infections.

If you're a singing star with a sore throat, your doctor may simply suggest that you try to talk as little as possible before the big event.

But some take advantage of another, less conventional option that proponents say can deliver a quick immune boost.

"I have a number of patients who go to certain spas to get IV vitamin therapy," Kessler says. "There are several clinics in New York that offer them, though I don't know the scientific basis of it, but some celebrities do that."

Kessler says he gives vitamin B-12 injections himself if the patient requests the treatment.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, vitamin B-12 shots are usually reserved to treat the anemia that some people experience when they're deficient in the nutrient.

But some believe that the shots can offer immunity benefits as well.

"This is completely anecdotal. There is no proof that a B-12 shot can help you get better," Kessler says. "But some of the anecdotal reports are interesting."

Treatment May Just Be Placebo

However, others say the treatment needs more than just anecdotes to warrant its use.

"There are plenty of people who get a shot of B-12 and are told, 'This should pep you up.' But it makes zero sense," says Dr. Nortin Hadler, professor of medicine and microbiology/immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of "The Last Well Person."

He says the treatment may not be as cutting-edge as some believe it to be, adding that such injections have been in low-level use ever since researchers discovered the chemical compound known as vitamin B-12 at Boston City Hospital in 1930.

"People like me actually cast aspersions on things like that. These are placebo effects, and I have problems with placebo medicine," says Hadler.

Aside from what he terms the "intellectual dishonesty" of offering a treatment based on the patient's conviction it will work, Hadler says placebo treatments often won't work twice -- that is, the patient may not always get the same positive effect experienced with the first shot.

Kessler says he believes it is important to inform all patients who request the treatment that there is no solid science behind the treatment regimen.

"If a patient asks me about it, I will tell them, 'There is no proof that it's going to help you,'" he says. "Still, some people really say they feel much better."

And so far there is little evidence to suggest that the vitamin jabs have any ill effects.

"There is no harm in giving it; no damage can be done from it, as you can't overdose on it," Kessler says.

"If a patient gets B-12 shots and feels like a million bucks afterward, why deny it to them?"

And for many of the stars whose million-dollar appearances could dictate their fortunes, any promise of a quick-fix remedy could be just what the doctor ordered.

"These are people like you and me, but they need to be perfect," Kessler says, "especially for these red carpet events."