What Airborne is: Effervescent tablets meant to be dissolved in water; there are also chewable tablets. The adult formulation contains high doses of vitamin A (2,000 IU) and vitamin C (1,000 milligrams) as well as vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, selenium and a bouquet of Chinese herbs, including Chinese vitex and isatis root, plus the more familiar echinacea, ginger and forsythia.
Claims, purported benefits: Prevents or cures the common cold.
What the studies show: There have been no published scientific studies on this formula. The company claims that one study has been done but has not released the results. Airborne, concocted and marketed by a teacher and touted on the Oprah show, is supposed to be taken every three hours at the first sign of a cold. As a result, you could get very large doses of vitamins and minerals. There is no truth to the idea that high doses of vitamin C or other vitamins—in particular vitamin A—will prevent a cold or alleviate symptoms, and no credible evidence shows that any of these other ingredients (except possibly zinc) would be useful in any way.
In 2008, after accusations by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of using false advertising and making unproven claims, the manufacturer of Airborne paid up to $30 million in settlements. According to the FTC’s complaint, “there is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims made by the defendants that Airborne tablets can prevent or reduce the risk of colds, sickness or infection; protect against or help fight germs; reduce the severity or duration of a cold; and protect against colds, sickness or infection in crowded places such as airplanes, offices or schools.”
Side effects: High doses of vitamin A are dangerous for pregnant women and over the long term could increase the risk of osteoporosis. The safe “upper limit” for vitamin A is 10,000 IU a day, but even 6,600 IU may harm bones. No one knows what the side effects of the herbs might be—Chinese vitex, for instance, has been linked to increases in blood pressure.
Bottom line: This supplement has nothing to back it up. And it may have a downside.