In-Flight Beverage Service 

I read your column about "starving a cold" and enjoyed it very much. So with all the news coverage of Bird Flu, I've been thinking about ways to protect myself just in case. Do cold remedies like Airborne have any proven effect, and do you think taking them is a good idea to keep me from getting sick?


This would be an easy question for the guy who played Greg on The Brady Bunch, since an evening with him has been a promotional prize for Airborne. Though Barry Williams is no surgeon general, he's certain to have lots of experience with germs after sharing a bathroom with five brothers and sisters. No insult intended to Alice, of course, but she seemed a lot more interested in family gossip and Sam the butcher than in disinfecting toilets.

Airborne Effervescent Health Formula is a drugstore dietary supplement that has seen tremendous growth and popularity in recent years. The combination of vitamins, amino acids, herbal extracts and minerals is compressed into a disc the size, shape and price equivalent of three stacked quarters. Before getting on an airplane or at the first symptom of a cold, the directions instruct you to drop a tablet in water and drink the fizzy, eerily green potion. This breakthrough sickness preventative and healing accelerator is described, ad nauseum, as being developed by a second-grade teacher. That fact, illogically, is supposed to inspire confidence. One would hesitate before agreeing to an appendix removal with a device developed, for example, by a 1970s situation comedy actor.

Marketing notwithstanding, there is some good stuff in Airborne. Each tablet contains a massive dose of vitamin C and a good amount of zinc. Both have been studied for many years regarding their usefulness in colds with fairly positive results. Other ingredients, like the Chinese herbs, may have a long history of use, but little official record. The exception is the herb echinacea. Despite thousands of consumers and health professionals who believe in and use echinacea extracts, large scale and carefully planned studies have consistently chipped away the pedestal on which this remedy is placed. Yet sales of the herb remain high, and similarly, the public buys ever-increasing amounts of Airborne without evidence of its usefulness.

It has been proven many times that belief or faith in a drug or procedure can have a significant effect on the outcome. That's why most well-designed research uses the double-blind method if possible. This way, neither the researcher nor the subject knows who gets the active ingredient and who is stuck with the inactive control or placebo. Airborne's packaging notes that clinical trial data, like double-blind research, is available at their Web site. As of this writing, any studies posted have apparently been removed, are unpublished elsewhere and, thus, cannot be evaluated. Medline searches reveal about as much quality discourse as was evident in "The Brady's Hawaiian Adventure" triple episode. What is available in cyberspace, however, are scores of personal experiences.

The majority of Airborne reviews by ordinary users are as glowing as the bubbling brew itself. The common theme usually recalls a cold coming on, then an abrupt halt by a quick guzzle of Airborne. Very often the reader is implored to mimic the reviewer and drink a glass each time before going out in public, especially to the mall, grocery store or gym. Further, many urge continuing at the label's recommended dose of one tablet every three hours. Frankly, I'm more concerned about the pervasive refrain of fear and psychological dependence in these reviews than for the diarrhea you'll likely get from the overdose of vitamin C. As yet, there is not enough evidence to convince me that these fizzy vitamins will protect you any better than keeping your hands clean, your fingers out of your nose, your diet full of fruits and vegetables (plus pork chops and applesauce, Peter Brady might add).

My doubts about the product did not keep me from trying Airborne on a pair of recent flights and a weekend away. After a number of nose-pinching libations, I am happy to report arriving home days later without Bird Flu, the common cold or even a sniffle. As many tablets as I downed, I must admit I did not take the maximum dose—and you may choose not to either. One thing you don't need while fastened in your seat on the plane ride to your dream date with Greg Brady is a sudden attack of loose stools.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send Nick at Nite DVDs and health-related questions to (on the Web at

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