Airborne and it being bogus

I read about Airborne and a class-action settlement over at Respectful Insolence. There are some interesting comments there too.

Here is the story linked to in the post:

I’m glad that they got some smack-down. But, let’s not forget to look at the positive. Here are some good things about Airborne.  Numbered for no particular importance.

1. It fizzes all cool in your mouth if you don’t put it in water.

2. It doesn’t taste too bad

3. Vitamins are generally good for you especially if you have trouble remembering to eat properly.

4. The container is really nice for holding other things once the Airborne is gone.

5. Disks are a nice shape.

Ok, I’m reaching too hard now. I have to admit I bought Airborne once before a plane trip. Only some of it was for the fizzy in my mouth.

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  1. I have to say, while tend to not give credence to all the "cure what ails you" stuff that is out there, Airborne got me. I tried it, it appeared to stave off disease, and so I swore by it. I then proceeded to proselytize it's powers to friends and family. Now I look stupid. I should have kept all those UPC's so I could get about $100 back. The repayment stuff is total crap. They made hundreds of millions by blatantly lying about their product, and now pay a few dollars out. If only I could come up with something like that!

  2. This makes me so happy. I can't stand Airborne proselytizers, especially those who think "invented by an elementary school teacher" is a good endorsement for medicine.

    I take zinc lozenges when I'm coming down with a cold to help shorten the duration of it. It seems to work and there is at least one legitimate study that suggests the same. (Did I bookmark it? No, because I am an idiot.)

    It's damn hard to find ones without echinacea or vitamin C in them, though. Those ingredients don't do crap and I already get plenty of dietary vitamin C.

  3. What? You mean a bunch of vitamins doesn't prevent colds? I'm shocked. Shocked!

    Vitamin C pushers are everywhere. It has permeated the culture so pervasively that no amount of reality can dislodge it. The good news is that overdosing on vitamin C is pretty much practically impossible, so all the extra vitamin C that they pump into stuff doesn't actually hurt anything.

  4. Airborne always strikes me as particularly strange. I usually attribute its popularity to the Trader Joe's effect – the reality altering aura which makes frozen dinners somehow healthy and palatable. I tend to opt for the slabs of chocolate as my checkout counter impulse purchase, I figure it tastes better than Airborne and probably has about the same health benefits.

    Just the other day, my graduate adviser (who I've always considered a sane, skeptical and rational person) admitted to taking Airborne even though she knew she was essentially taking snake oil.

    I would ask why products like this continue to exist, but I think I just answered my own question.

  5. "The good news is that overdosing on vitamin C is pretty much practically impossible"

    Yeah, but the problem is that most people don't know you CAN overdose on other vitamins! I don't know how often that actually happens, but I do know that most of the time I tell people that, they don't believe me.

  6. I had the same thought Jason did … I hope nobody tells all the guys at my dad's office that it doesn't work, because they're convinced they're healthier because of it!

  7. It isn't the Vitamin C that's harmful, it's the Vitamin A. Vitamin C is water-soluble, so you just piss away the extra. But Vitamin A is fat-soluble, so it's stored in your fat cells, and you CAN overdose on it.

    If you take AirBorne as directed every 3 hours, you could easily overdose on the amount of Vitamin A that's in several tablets. This could potentially cause liver damage, among other things.

    So not only is AirBorne useless in preventing colds, it's potentially dangerous if taken several times a day for an extended period.

    BTW, AirBorne has now stopped making any health claims. Read the bottle carefully (with a magnifying glass): "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

    So the bottle now makes no claims whatsoever. It just tells you "where you can use it." But the damage has been done with its early ads – it's sold in drug stores next to actual medicines, and most people don't read the fine print.

  8. Vera, thanks for posting this. I *just* got out of a meeting with one of our consultants who was swearing by this stuff. And both his parents are doctors! He told me I could be as skeptical as I wanted but that I should try it and I would become a believer. I was very happy to send him this link. :)

  9. I sent the link to my coworker who was asking around if anyone had Airborne this morning. His response was, “Great. Now the placebo effect won’t work on me anymore.” Ha!

  10. He told me I could be as skeptical as I wanted but that I should try it and I would become a believer.

    I feel like saying to these people "what part of post hoc rationalization and regression to the mean do you not understand?" Oh, that's right- all of it!

  11. I'm absolutely thrilled that this came out. Even though it makes me look like a massive d-bag, I forwarded the NY Times story to every ex coworker and friend who swore by the stuff, with a subject line saying "i told you so" and an email body containing nothing but the link.

    It felt great.

  12. Vera? Contrary to your point 3, there is zero evidence that vitamin supplements are of any health benefit unless you have a vitamin deficiency.

  13. The first Airborne commercials struck me as odd. They had the actor who played Greg Brady in, and bunch of people coughing. Plus the tag line was way too long.

    But they worked, so what do I know?

  14. Nitpicking: Vitamin deficiency is what I was referring to in point 3. Sorry for the unclear writing. I could have written something along the lines of: Vitamins are generally good for you. Although in a healthy diet one most likely gets the proper vitamins from food, if you have a vitamin deficiency from disease or poor diet a vitamin supplement can be helpful.

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