Airborne settlement

Posted on March 27th, 2008 by blue collar scientist

I’ve been meaning to post for a while about Airborne, the vitamin supplement widely believed to be able to prevent sickness - widely believed, it seems, thanks to misleading advertising. Airborne, who pulled down $150 million in 2006 and presumably similar amounts in other years, have agreed to return a piddly 23.3 million bucks to consumers who can prove they bought Airborne, to settle claims of false advertising. I first heard of the matter from Orac and yesterday Steve Novella covers the issue again at Science-Based Medicine.

Originally, I just wanted to post to point the settlement out to a particular reader of mine who actually bought some Airborne some months back. (If this is you, go get your claim form and get your money back.) But Novella brings to light two things I hadn’t previously noticed, and both are worth covering.

Airborne used to carry claims of a clinical study showing efficacy on its packaging. These claims were removed. Most think it had to do with an expose by ABC News that reported, among other things:

GNG [where the clinical study was supposedly conducted] is actually a two-man operation started up just to do the Airborne study. There was no clinic, no scientists and no doctors. The man who ran things said he had lots of clinical trial experience. He added that he had a degree from Indiana University, but the school says he never graduated.

But Airborne CEO Elise Donahue says that embarassment over this investigative reporting is not the reason the claims were removed. The real reason, she says, is:

We found that it confused consumers. Consumers are really not scientifically minded enough to be able to understand a clinical study.

Well, this blog is devoted to the notion that anyone, whether “scientifically minded” or not, is capable of understanding scientific principles and conclusions. So I blow a big raspberry at such a condescending remark, and point out that Airborne’s management has a surprisingly contemptuous attitude toward its consumers.

In a separate issue, Novella reports:

Airborne contains too much vitamin A. Two pills contains 10,000 IU, which is the maximum safe limit, but the instructions say to take three pills per day. So taken as directed Airborne contains more than the safe limit of vitamin A. This would also have to be added to vitamin A consumed in food, and of course many consumers may also be taking a multivitamin without realizing that Airborne is essentially just another vitamin pill itself.

An overdose of vitamin A, which your doctor will know as Hypervitaminosis A, can result in nausea, jaundice, irritability, anorexia, vomiting, blurry vision, headaches, muscle and abdominal pain and weakness, drowsiness, emotional and cognitive changes. The Wikipedia article cites references if you want to go pursue more information.

Now hypervitaminosis A doesn’t normally occur until tens or hundreds of thousands of IU of vitamin A are consumed. But frighteningly, the toxicity is enhanced by alcohol consumption, and in people with compromised kidneys, just 4,000 IU can be fatal. Remember, one pill of Airborne contains 10,000 5,000 IU, and they recommend you take three every day. What a way to discover you are renal compromised, eh?

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2 Responses to “Airborne settlement”

  1. Charles Says:

    Wait, is it one pill or two? Either way, it’s a ridiculous amount, but still. Maybe you meant to write 5000 IU, which is still a fatal dose for someone with kidney problems.

  2. blue collar scientist Says:

    Thanks, Charles! I’ve made the correction.

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