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Does it prevent the common cold?

Sara Crow

October 10, 2008



airborne.jpgWhat is Airborne?

Airborne is a dietary supplement that combines seventeen vitamins, minerals, and herbs, including: Vitamins A, C, and E, zinc, selenium, manganese, magnesium, riboflavin, and amino acids. The supplement is gluten, wheat, lactose, and caffeine free and is also free of any peanut materials.  While there are numerous Airborne products, the focus of this analysis will be on the original supplement, Airborne Original Zesty Orange ( 

The makers and creators of Airborne explain that their product is effective in supporting and maintaining a healthy immune system.  Most users of this product swear by their success in preventing the onset of the common cold and the relief from symptoms as a result of using this supplement.  Users have been quoted on the website as saying, “My whole family depends on Airborne to help their immune system.  Thanks for this great product!” and, “I just want to say that I truly believe in your product and will continue to use it!!!”  The website even quotes actor Kevin Costner, “Look, Airborne is great.  I wouldn’t go on a movie set without it; it’s on my plane and in my house (”  img-supplement-org-prod.gif

Airborne users are directed to take the supplement at the first sign of cold symptoms.  The supplement is taken by dissolving one tablet in a small amount of hot or cold water and then drinking the solution.  The product can be dissolved in other liquids if the entire amount is ingested; however, the use of citrus juices as the solvent is discouraged.  This can be repeated every three hours for three to four days following the onset of a cold.  While there are children’s products available, children can also use the original supplement, but the dosage is half a pill rather than the whole.

Additionally, the product can be taken as a daily dietary supplement.  The price of Airborne varies; however, the average retail price is approximately $6.99 per tube, which contains ten tablets.  Airborne package labeling, ingredients, and manufacturing quality are regulated by the FDA (


What is the common cold?

Text Box:     Rhinovirus 16
Text Box:     Rhinovirus 16
The common cold is caused by a virus that manifests in the nose and often affects the nose itself, sinuses, bronchial tubes, and the ears.  While colds range in severity, they also range in terms of duration, lasting for a little as two to three days or as long as two weeks.  Typical symptoms of colds include: sneezing, runny nose, nasal obstruction, sore or scratchy throat, cough, hoarseness, headaches, feverishness, and fatigue.  Colds are often confused as mild influenzas, although they are different ailments with some dissimilarity in terms of symptoms and duration.  On average, adults have two to three colds a year.  Children, however, have colds much more often than adults with an average of six to ten colds per year (   

As stated, colds are caused by viruses.  While there are over 200 viruses that cause colds, one family of viruses are responsible for 30 to 35% of all cold cases.  These viruses are called rhinoviruses.  There are 110 identified, separate rhinoviruses.  These viruses survive best at a temperature of 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the same temperature as the human nose, which makes the nose the perfect environment for rhinoviruses to grow and flourish.

Other causes of the common cold that are supported by scientific data include coronaviruses and other viruses, viral infections, allergenic diseases, and psychological stress (


What are the key ingredients of Airborne?

            While the makers of Airborne state that the “key ingredients in Airborne have been shown to help support a healthy immune system as shown in scientific studies and medical journals ,” they never state exactly to which of the  dozens of ingredients they are referring (  However, from examining the label, one can determine that the main ingredients of Airborne are Vitamin C and Echinacea.  

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water soluble vitamin that humans are unable to produce and therefore must obtain through their diet.  Numerous fruits and vegetables are good sources of Vitamin C.  However, many people also obtain the vitamin through various supplements and multivitamins.  Ascorbic acid plays an important role in both the synthesis of norepinephrine and as an antioxidant (

Echinacea, also known as the purple or American coneflower, is an herb that has been used to treat the flu, colds, and infections due to the belief that it stimulates the immune system.  The entire plant itself, both the parts above the ground and the roots, are used for herbal purposes.  Echinacea does produce some side effects such as allergic reactions, worsened asthma, and gastrointestinal complications.  These side effects vary in both severity and occurrence, however, based on both the method of use and the individual (               


Do Vitamin C and Echinacea effectively prevent the common cold?

In his article “Vitamin C: Do High Doses Prevent Colds?”, Charles W. Marshall, Ph.D. explains the lasting affects that Linus Pauling's book published in 1970, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, has left on society and the resulting assumption that Vitamin C supplementation is an effective form of prevention and treatment for the common cold. (  This assumption, however, is not true.

common-cold.jpgFor example, in 1974, Dr. Terence Anderson (1975) from the University of Toronto completed a three month double-blind study that included 818 participants with ages ranging from 10 to 65.  Anderson executed this experiment to test Pauling’s claims that taking 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C daily before colds and 4,000 milligrams daily for the first three days of a cold would reduce one’s chances of getting a cold by 45% and the days of illness by 60%.  This study certainly did not prove these claims to be true.  While 74% of those in the vitamin group had one or more colds, 82% of those in the placebo effect group claimed to have experienced one or more colds.  Dr. Anderson determined this difference to be insignificant.  Similarly, the addition of Vitamin C did not have a significant effect on the duration of the cold.  Those who were given vitamins had a cold, on average, for 1.67 days while those in the placebo group had colds that lasted an average 1.87 days.  This was only Anderson’s first trial of experimentation concerning the effects of Vitamin C on the prevention of the common cold.  After completing additional trials, he concluded that while Vitamin C may slightly reduce the severity of colds, there is no benefit gained from taking Vitamin C daily to prevent the on-set of the common cold.

In Anderson’s experiment, similar dosages of Vitamin C were used as are found in Airborne.  A single tablet contains 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C. Also, because users are suggested to use the supplement every three to four hours during a cold, their Vitamin C intake would total roughly 4,000 milligrams if one follows the regiment throughout the day.  This study is especially useful in determining whether or not Airborne is an effective preventative measure against the common cold due to this similarity.  According to Anderson’s in depth study and findings, it is not. 

More recently, a similar study was completed in Australia to examine the relationship between cold prevention and Vitamin C.  This 2001 double-blind, randomized clinical study lasted for 18 months and consisted of 400 participants who were instructed to take one of four pills containing Vitamin C: 0.03grams (placebo), 1 gram, 3grams, or 3 grams with additives (Bio-C).  They were to take the pills whenever they felt they had experienced cold-like symptoms for a period of at least four hours.  They were also asked to document their symptoms and their severity, doctor visits, and other medications they were taking.  A total of 149 participants returned records of 189 colds and among the groups no significant difference was found (Audera, Patulny, Sander, & Douglas, 2001).

Moreover, during the study completed by Douglas and Halima (2005), not only was there no benefit found from taking therapeutic doses of 10 grams of Vitamin during the first three days of the cold, but there was also no change in the incidence of colds in 23 community groups among those who had as high as 2 gram doses of Vitamin C daily.  While there was evidence that Vitamin C supplements were beneficial among those who immediately participated in extreme physical exertion, these results are not relevant to everyday users.

There are countless studies in which Vitamin C proves to have very little to no impact on the incidence of the common cold.  In some cases, the incidence was even increased with the addition of Vitamin C in prevention methods (Hamilä, 1991).

On the other hand, the question still stands whether or not Echinacea effectively prevents the common cold.  The results of studies testing the effectiveness of this herbal remedy are very similar to those studies concerning Vitamin C that have been discussed.  There has been little conclusive data found that proves Echinacea supplements as an effective way to prevent colds.  While one may find studies that yield data that indicate Echinacea is does prevent the common cold and reduce its duration and symptoms, be should be sure to examine the studies and look for any flaws in the methodologies used.  Twelve clinical studies published from 1961 to 1997 were examined by a group of researchers and although the studies yielded data that supported Echinacea as effective in preventing the common cold, the researchers also found substantial flaws in the studies themselves.  Similarly, in five studies published since 1997, they found equivalent shortcomings and weaknesses.  While two found Echinacea to be ineffective, three found that it was effective in reducing the incidence, duration, and severity of the common cold.  These results, however, were obtained using small populations and nonstandardized dosage forms (Chang, Chien, Giles, Kennedy, & Palat, 2000).         

In 2002 in Madison, Wisconsin, a double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled study was completed with 148 students who had recently onset common colds.  Students were randomly sorted into the placebo group or the supplement group.  The supplement group was instructed to take the encapsulated mixed of Echinacea root and herb in one gram doses six times a day on the first day of the cold and three times daily during the succeeding days of the illness for up to ten days.  At the end of the study, no significant differences, for better or worse, were found between the two groups in terms of severity or duration (Barrett, Bobula, Brown, D’Alessio, & Locken, 2001).   This and numerous other studies share similar ends- there is little to no significant data that supports Echinacea as an effective treatment for the common cold.

Furthermore, a similar study was completed focusing specifically on the whether or not Echinacea can prevent colds.  In 1999, Turner, Riker, and Gangemi (2001) completed a double-blind study in which they found that the herb had no significant effect on the occurrence colds or the severity of the symptoms.  The study participants were treated for fourteen days prior to their exposure to rhinovirus 23, either with 300 milligrams of Echinacea three times daily or placebo.  Treatment was continued for five days following their exposure to the virus.  Of the 50 participants in the Echinacea group, 22 experienced infection and 24 of 42 placebo participants also experienced the on-set of the common cold.  There was no significant effect on the incidence of colds when Echinacea was used as a preventative measure.

Common-cold-remedy_mfln284l.jpgA comparable study by Grimm and Müller (1999) came to similar conclusions as the previous study.  Their randomized, controlled study involved the 108 patients who had a record of three or more respiratory infections or colds during the previous year.  The participants were randomly assigned to groups and then instructed take a 4 milliliter fluid extract of Echinacea purperea or a 4 milliliter placebo juice twice a day.  Over the course of the following eight weeks, data was collected on the participants in both groups.  Throughout the eight weeks, 65% of the Echinacea group and 74% of the placebo group experienced a cold or respiratory infection.   While there was an insignificant difference in the incidence of colds or infections, there were also unsubstantial differences in duration or severity.


So, does it work? 

After analyzing the components of Airborne, it became clear that the two key ingredients were Vitamin C and Echinacea.  Through researching relevant studies and reviews in which similar dosages of both substances were used, it is clear that these ingredients would not be effective in preventing the common cold.  Therefore, because these two ingredients are the components of the Airborne supplement that would be held as responsible for its success and efficacy, one can conclude from scientific data that Airborne is not effective in the prevention of the common cold.                      


Citations and Sources

Airborne Health (2007).  Retrieved October 5, 2008, from Airborne:

Anderson, T.W. (1975).  Large-scale trials of vitamin C.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 258, 498-504.

Audera C., Patulny R.V., Sander B.H., Douglas R.M. (2001). Mega-dose vitamin C in treatment of the common cold: A randomised controlled trial. Medical Journal of Australia, 175, 389.  Retrieved on October 5, 2008, from PubMed.

Baird I.M., Hughes R.E., Wilson H.K., Davies J.E., & Howard A.N. (1979).  The effects of ascorbic acid and flavonoids on the occurrence of symptoms normally associated with the common cold.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 32, 1686-1690.  Retrieved  October 5, 2008, from PubMed. 

Barrett, B.P., Bobula, J.A., Brown, R.L., D’Alessio, D., Locken, K. (2001).  Treatment of the Common Cold with Unrefined Echinacea.  Annals of Internal Medicine, 137, 939-946.  Retrieved on October 5, 2008, from Annals of Internal Medicine.   

Chang, G., Giles, J.T. Chien, S.H., Kennedy, D.T., & Palat C.T. (2000).  Evaluation of Echinacea for Treatment of the Common Cold.  Pharmacoptherapy, 20, 690-697.  Retrieved October 9, 2008, from Pharmacotherapy. 

Douglas, R.M. & Hemilä, H. (2005).  Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold.  PLOS Medicine, 2(6), e168.  Retrieved October 5, 2008, from PLOS Medicine.

Gangemi, D.J., Riker, D.K., & Turner, R.B. (2000).  Ineffectiveness of Echinacea for Prevention of Experimental Rhinovirus Colds.  Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy,44, 1708-1709.  Retrieved on October 5, 2008, from Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

Grimm, W. & Müller, H. (1999).  A randomized controlled trial of the effect of fluid extract of Echinacea purpurea on the incidence and severity of colds and respiratory infections [Abstract].  Am J. Med, 106, 138-43.  Retrieved October 9, 2008, from PubMed. 

Halimä, H. (1991).  Vitamin C and the Common Cold.  British Journal of Nutrition, 26, 3-16.  Retrieved October 5, 2008, from Cambridge Journals.



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