The hottest cold remedy on the shelves is Airborne, a tablet-in-water
"effervescent" concoction consisting of antioxidants, electrolytes,
amino acids, vitamin C, and seven herbs. Legend has it that this was invented
by a second-grade teacher who found the perfect formula for warding off the
ailments of her germy little charges.
"My patients use it and find it helpful and cost effective," Mark
Stengler, ND, a naturopathic medical doctor who practices at the LaJolla Whole
Health Clinic in LaJolla, Calif., tells WebMD. "They take it if people
around them have a cold or if they are going on a plane. It comes in a
children's version, too."
On the company web site, a study of 96 people aged 18-55 years who had upper
respiratory symptoms 24 hours or less is outlined. A cold-symptoms scale was
developed to be used during the study.
Forty-eight participants received Airborne six times a day for five days,
while 44 participants received a placebo pill. They were asked to evaluate
their symptoms after receiving their treatment. In the placebo group, almost
10% saw complete improvements in their symptoms. In the Airborne group, almost
half of were classified as "full responders."
"If someone had a cure for the cold, we would all take it," Eric
Larson, MD, chair of the board of regents of the American College of
Physicians, an internist at Group Health Cooperative and director of the Center
for Health Studies, both in Seattle, reminds WebMD. "A lot of the evidence
we hear is along the lines of, 'I took this medicine and didn't get a cold and
my spouse didn't take it and did get a cold.'"
Still, Larson says "a lot of people swear by Airborne. I just don't see
evidence that it works." However, he adds that because people believe it's
effective, it may indeed have an effect.
How Effective Is Vitamin C?
Larson says vitamin C is "probably the most studied" remedy.
"This is because a popular scientist [Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling]
cited the biochemistry and showed why it should work." But, he says, the
consensus seems to be that large doses of vitamin C (greater than 1 gram per
day) does not prevent infection with the virus responsible for the common
"The studies are mixed," agrees Stengler. He says that in 21
studies, vitamin C reduced the symptoms and duration of a cold, but differences
in doses of the vitamin made it difficult to interpret the results of these
studies. The reduction in symptoms may have been related to vitamin C's
antihistamine effect at large doses.
"I just don't find vitamin C magical," sighs Stengler. "It can
help mild to moderately. And it's easy to get and cost-effective."
Does Echinacea Fight Colds?
Echinacea is a distillation from a roadside wildflower called the purple
coneflower and is often touted as enhancing immunity. "Again, the studies
are mixed," says Stengler. "There are some positive ones." he