Airborne Supplement As a Cold/Flu Preventive?

On New Year's Eve or shortly thereafter, I picked up my first mild cold or flu bug of the winter. It started as a dry cough, followed by nasal congestion and drainage, leading to a sore throat. I had some mild body aches, which made me think it was a flu virus.

I decided to throw my usual armory or over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu remedies at it, so I drove to the nearby HyVee and perused their pharmacy section for some good options.

One of the available remedies was Airborne, a supplement of vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts advertised to support the immune system, help defend against free radicals, and promote overall health. The FDA forbids supplement manufacturers from making any cure or prevention claims on supplements unless clinically proven, and indeed, as a cold and flu remedy, Airborne has no strong clinical science to support its efficacy, per se. In fact, the maker of Airborne lost a class action law suit on claims it was making about the cold fighting powers of its product.

But the new generic advertising message was still quite clear...it can't hurt and it might help.

Given that the stuff was fairly cheap, I thought, "what the heck?" and bought a 10 count vial of the dissolvable tablets (lemon flavor) for about $5 (their marketing worked on me!).

I followed the directions, dropping an effervescent tablet into a glass of warm water every 3-4 hours and used the drink to chase down my other OTC remedies: Benadryl or Claritin for nasal decongestion, Robitussin DM for cough suppression, ibuprofen for the mild aches and probable fever. I sucked on Ricola herbal lozenges for my scratchy throat and also used (sparingly) an oxymetazoline based nasal spray at night so I could breathe through my nose while sleeping.

This barrage of OTC remedies seemed to do the trick and after about three days, the cold had been knocked back substantially and I was on the mend. That was a fast recovery compared with most of the colds I get around this time of year. They usually last seven to 10 days, or longer. But I had received a flu shot a few months ago, and that may have limited the intensity of the infection, if it was in fact a flu bug.

I have no way of knowing if the Airborne supplement had any impact on my cold whatsoever, but I did glance at the ingredients list and it contained a lot of things I knew (from my eight years in R&D at a vitamin company) were anecdotally reported to fight colds and flu.

Most notable, of course, was the high vitamin C content (about 1667% of the recommended daily value per tablet). Growing up, my mom would always megadose my sister and me with vitamin C whenever we got sick, though I don't recall it ever doing much good. Airborne also contains decent amounts of vitamins A and E (can't hurt...might help).

Of the minerals in Airborne, zinc is the one most closely associated with fighting colds and there is some mild clinical evidence for its efficacy when taken preventively or in the early stages of a cold. Airborne also contains selenium, a trace element with mixed effects on immunity. Selenium tends to be deficient in the general population and is essential for the function of many antioxidant enzymes used by the immune system. So there is a logical (if not clinical) case to be made for including selenium in the formula of the Airborne supplement.

Airborne also contains Echinacea, an herb long associated with immune support. Though not conclusively proven to be clinically effective against colds, Echinacea does appear to influence the immune system and may act as an adaptogenic herb, strengthening the immune system when taken preventively.

It is unlikely that Airborne does much to cure colds and flu. However, taken preventively during the cold and flu season, it might bolster immune defenses against colds and flu, thus minimizing the intensity and/or duration of colds and flu.

It can't hurt and it might help...

MORE INFORMATION: http://www.forbes.com/2009/10/12/cold-flu-treatments-lifestyle-health-swine-flu-h1n1.html