Airborne Insanity

Today's topic is about a B.S. product that is marketed towards preventing upper respiratory tract infections:  Airborne


Airborne is a product that I've heard a lot of positive testimonials about.  However, positive testimonials, by themselves, are worthless for supporting a product's efficacy.  Things like the placebo effect, regression to the mean, the cum hoc, ergo propter hoc ("with this, therefore because of this") fallacy, and other things can make a completely worthless product look like it does something.

Overall, there are a lot of people who swear by Airborne.  However, a lot of people swear by astrology too.  That doesn't mean there's anything to it.

If you look on the ingredient list, it's nothing more than an overpriced, overglorified multivitamin.  In fact, the doses of each vitamin and mineral are similar to what you would find in a typical multivitamin.  For example, here's a list comparing the ingredients of Airborne to the Kirkland brand Daily Multivitamin you can get from Costco.


Vitamin E

Airborne 30 IU     Kirkland Multivitamin   60 IU

Vitamin A

Airborne 2000 IU   Kirkland Multivitamin  3500 IU

Vitamin C

Airborne 1000 mg  Kirkland Multivitamin  120 mg

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Airborne  2.8 mg    Kirkland Multivitamin  1.7 mg


Airborne 40 mg      Kirkland Multivitamin  100 mg


Airborne 8 mg        Kirkland Multivitamin  22.5 mg


Airborne  15 mcg    Kirkland Multivitamin  45 mcg


Airborne  3 mg       Kirkland Multivitamin  2.5 mcg


Airborne  75 mg     Kirkland Multivitamin  80 mg

In 5 out of these 9 micronutrients, the Kirkland multivitamin gives you more than Airborne does.  Nearly equivalent amounts are found in 2 more of the micronutrients.  Thus, Airborne gives you more in only 2 out of the 9 micronutrients.

What are the costs of these two substances?

Airborne:  62 cents per tablet

Kirkland Multivitamin:  3 cents per tablet

Can you say rip-off?

The product also contains glutamine, an amino acid that is used as a fuel source by your immune cells.  However, it contains less than 50 milligrams.  I published a study on glutamine in 2006, and I can tell you that 50 milligrams isn't going to do a thing for you.  We gave our subjects 20-30 grams of glutamine per day.  You need high doses of glutamine to see any potential immune benefit, and this benefit will only happen in conditions of extreme stress.  Now when I say extreme stress, I don't mean you've-got-5-exams-tomorrow-and-your-girlfriend-is-breaking-up-with-you type stress.  I'm talking trauma-ward, burn-patient, you-might-die extreme physical stress.

You get more glutamine out of food then you do from Airborne.

Airborne seems to make a big deal that it was designed by a schoolteacher.  I'm not quite sure how being a school teacher makes one an expert on nutrition and immune function.

That's not the end of it.  Airborne Health, the company that sells Airborne, had to fork out $23 million in a settlement agreement after the firm made false claims about its supplement.  It was found that the product was deceptively marketed.  Also, Airborne Health claimed that the product was supported by a clinical trial.  However, ABC News found that this was not a legitimate clinical trial run by doctors or scientists.  In fact, this "clinical trial" was done by a guy who never even graduated from school.

So why is this product so popular?  Well, this school teacher once appeared on Oprah

It must work, then, right????!!!

Man, all it takes is one appearance on Oprah and a product becomes an instant success...regardless of whether it's legit.

The fact is, there is no evidence that Airborne will help prevent upper respiratory illness.  I think the term "Airborne" is a very fitting name for this product...because its claims are more full of air than substance.

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11 years ago

Do either product contain the fake sugar sucrose, fructose, sucralose, aspartame, and all other fake sugars, all of which have been linked to pancreatic cancer?

14 years ago

I admit … I have tried it – more just as a multivitamin though than for any magical flu fighting. It also has some herb ingredients (Lonicera, Forsythia, Schizonepeta, Ginger, Chinese Vitex, Isatis and Echinacea) for which no standards are set, and some of which could have drug interactions. It is a proprietary blend so no clue on what part of the herb or how much. A better bet for someone who likes a vitamin/mineral boost in liquid form with a nice taste is emergen-c – just the original one – the other new ones are getting too fancy. It… Read more »

Michael Goode
Michael Goode
14 years ago

I wish more people would understand that the plural of anecdote is not data. 🙁

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