Airborne cold remedy. Worth it or not?

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One of my biggest pet peeves is companies that either push the limits of nutritional advertising laws, or simply use advertising in a deceptive way to peddle something not really worth buying. Unfortunately, many supplement companies (maybe most) push the edges of the envelope simply to add to their bottom line. In some ways you can’t blame them. If sales are lost to someone else who isn’t so honest, claiming to cure death and all sorts of ills, then the honest company who only gives factual information may not be able to compete and won’t survive. Sure, there are laws, but for the most part they aren’t well written and even more poorly enforced. That’s why companies can claim their product ‘contributes to a healthy heart’ without a shred of evidence, simply because the claim is a ’structure and function’ one and not a claim to cure the disease. Clear enough to Joe Consumer? I think not.

Airborne Boxes PictureOne such company is the current drug store darling, Airborne. Man, does this company have a marketing department or what? Their packaging has a wonderfully whimsical cartoon of some poor sap in the middle of an airplane full of sick people. Or a kid in a class full of coughing students. If a picture says a thousand words, this one at least says ‘if you’re in this situation or one like it, our product will help you keep healthy’. But wait, that’s not all. Then the package boldly states ‘developed by a school teacher’! Apparently this lady was sick of being sick all the time, so she went out and got her PhD in nutrition and biochemistry and made the world’s best cold remedy.

Okay, I made up the part about the PhD, but just to drive home the point that there is absolutely no reason to give any more trust to a school teacher than anyone else in this matter.
If I work in an office with a bunch of ugly people it doesn’t mean I’m all of the sudden highly qualified to do out-of-this-world facials, right? It’s all marketing hype!

If you know me, which you really don’t, you know that I insist on a good set of independent research on a product before I buy in to the claims. Does Airborne have that? Well, again, their box claims to and even goes so far as to say you can visit their web site for data on clinical trials. I encourage you to visit their site and look for this phantom data. It’s not there. All they have is a vague blurb on the FAQ page about how:

Each ingredient in the Airborne formula has been repeatedly documented in published studies to contribute to a strong, healthy immune system. Additionally, we conducted a study in 2003 that showed Airborne had a marked effect on reducing the duration of symptoms.

Where is this study? Nobody knows. I’ve e-mailed them twice about the issue without response. My guess is that the study, funded by them, didn’t turn out as favorable as they’d hoped. If you can’t get a self-funded study to turn out favorable, you’re hosed. That’s to say nothing about independent studies.

Finally, if they can’t even show us the supplements they put in the product are effective for what they claim, how can we even be sure they’re safe to take? What if one of the ingredients is the next Phen-Fen, causing as of yet undiscovered health problems?

Here’s what you can do: stick with the supplements that actually do have positive, independent studies to back up their ability to fight the common cold. Like these (links go to clinical data):

  1. Chicken Noodle Soup – Yep, seems Grandma may have been right
  2. Vitamin C – (lots of studies, this is just one recent one)
  3. Zinc Gluconate (ColdEeze)

Yes, I realize that Airborne has a large dose of Vitamin C. It’s the other stuff in there that bothers me. You can buy Vitamin C on its own a lot cheaper and not risk taking the other stuff Airborne adds in. My final recommendation is eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and keep your hands good and clean. If you get sick, try the tried and true remedies above, along with plenty of fluids. That ought to help keep you healthy.

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