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What is a Banana Bag?

By Celeste Heiter
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A banana bag is an intravenous nutritional supplement that is commonly prescribed to hospital patients who have vitamin or mineral deficiencies or chemical imbalances. The name comes from the bright yellow color of the vitamin B2 in the solution. The bag also contains a mixture of other vitamins and minerals designed to quickly replenish any that the patient is lacking. It's sometimes also called a rally pack.

Contents

In most cases, the bag contains 0.5 to 1 liter of saline solution, along with dissolved vitamins and minerals. One of the primary ingredients is called a multivitamin for infusion (MVI). This is a 10 milliliter dose of a balanced supplement of essential vitamins and minerals needed for normal bodily function, including vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, iron, and potassium.

In addition, each bag contains 1 milligram of vitamin B9 and 100 milligrams of vitamin B1. Vitamin B9, also called folic acid, is essential for the synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA), for healthy cell growth, and for the production of red blood cells. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, plays a key role in the conversion of carbohydrates to energy, in protein metabolism, and in the function of nerves and muscles.

Depending on the patient’s requirements, some bags contain 3 grams of magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salt. This mineral helps the body maintain its water balance and is also needed for healthy nerve and muscle function. Magnesium sulfate is typically added as a supplement to help treat dehydration and is sometimes used to help relieve nerve and muscle symptoms.

Administration of the Bag

The banana bag solution is usually administered by a nurse or other medical professional. Bags can be given to both inpatients and outpatients, although an outpatient might have a longer stay if he or she is given this treatment. Intravenous solutions are most often administered through a vein in the hand or arm, but other locations are sometimes used. Infusion into a patient’s bloodstream can take between two and eight hours.

The length of time it takes to infuse the solution varies according to its contents, because many substances can only be given safely at a limited rate. For example, some people have allergic reactions to IV administration of thiamine or vitamin K. When they are given slowly, it allows more time to treat an adverse reaction before a dangerous amount of the substance has been infused. Magnesium sulfate can cause problems with the central nervous system when administered too quickly.

Uses

One of the main reasons that a banana bag is used to prevent malnutrition associated with alcoholism. This is necessary because many alcoholics have nutritionally poor diets and are likely to be deficient in one or more essential nutrients. This can occur even if someone has a reasonably healthy diet, because alcohol makes it difficult for the body to absorb certain nutrients. People with long-term alcoholism are at risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disease that develops as a result of chronic thiamine deficiency and can lead to brain and muscle dysfunction.

Another common use of the bag is as a treatment for people with chronic or terminal illnesses. Bags containing magnesium sulfate are often used in intensive care units because many long-term or terminal patients experience nerve pain, muscle pain, or muscle cramps due to magnesium deficiency. Even when a deficiency is not the cause of pain, an infusion of the mineral can be effective. Magnesium is also added as a supplemental treatment for the alcohol withdrawal syndrome known as delirium tremens to help treat similar symptoms.

Banana bags are sometimes used outside the hospital setting for reportedly non-medical purposes. Stories occasionally surface of them being used by celebrities as a means of preventing malnutrition and dehydration during starvation diets for weight loss. This practice is not recommended by medical professionals, however. A banana bag does not contain all of the nutrients necessary to sustain healthy bodily function and is not a replacement for an adequate diet.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon303141 — On Nov 13, 2012

Thanks for the information that addresses the reason why we give alcoholics a banana bag.

By anon159414 — On Mar 11, 2011

Yes you can get it as an outpatient. I went to the emergency room for tremors, night sweats, shaking and insomnia. They gave me a banana bag to help give me nutrients.

By artlover — On Mar 06, 2011

I have not heard of a banana bag being used in conventional medicine. I think this is really cool.

Does anyone know if this can be done on an outpatient status, or do you have to be an in patient? Can you ask for it for support with other treatments or does your doctor have to order it?

By panda2006 — On Feb 21, 2011

I think I had heard the term rally pack for this, not banana bag. Either way, an interesting name.

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