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Off the Shelf: Borne to be well

 by Kristi Eaton  published on Thursday, February 24, 2005

<em>Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>The latest trend to battle cold symptoms is Airborne, an effervescent dietary supplement that is taken at the first sign of sickness or before entering crowded areas. The product was developed by a school teacher and is praised by celebrities, such as Oprah Winfrey and Kevin Costner./issues/arts/692153
Danielle Peterson
Danielle Peterson / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
The latest trend to battle cold symptoms is Airborne, an effervescent dietary supplement that is taken at the first sign of sickness or before entering crowded areas. The product was developed by a school teacher and is praised by celebrities, such as Oprah Winfrey and Kevin Costner.
 

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As rain poured over Tempe this week, drenched students sniffled and coughed their way to class, many of them unaware that a new product is stopping colds dead in their tracks.

Airborne, effervescent tablets packaged in a 5-inch tube, is rapidly becoming a staple to surviving the cold and flu season.

And no wonder.

The product has been touted by celebrities including Kevin Costner and Oprah Winfrey, who featured Airborne's creator -- second-grade teacher Victoria Knight-McDowell -- on her show just a month ago.

Knight-McDowell, 44, created the tablets after she perfected a recipe of herbs in her kitchen in 1997.

Locally, Airborne has become a hot commodity at drug stores including Walgreens, CVS, OscoDrug and Rite Aid, and other stores including Trader Joe's, Albertson's and GNC.

It has become so popular that many drug stores can't keep it in stock.

Eva Segal, who works at the Walgreens on Broadway Road and Mill Avenue, says shipments arrive Friday night or Saturday morning and are sold out by Sunday.

Last weekend, Segal says a shipment of 36 packages came in on Saturday morning and were gone within 24 hours.

Airborne is meant to be taken in crowded, germ-laden environments to prevent catching a cold or at the first sign of a cold, usually a sore throat. The package recommends users take one tablet every three hours until their symptoms stop or they leave the crowded environment, including airports and classrooms.

"I take it when I fly on a plane because of all of the germs," psychology sophomore Abra Armour says. "If I start to feel any sign of feeling sick, I take it as well."

Airborne's newfound popularity is attributable to word of mouth, commercial advertising and its appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, during which Winfrey said she would not get on a plane without it.

But not everyone thinks the celebrities' praise is helpful to the general public.

Carl Labbe, pharmacy manager at ASU'S Health and Wellness Center, says many people take the tablets simply because of their notoriety.

"People shouldn't be taking some magic pill they see on Oprah," he says.

Labbe says one of the main ingredients in Airborne -- echinacea -- has been proven to provide some relief to cold symptoms but may end up more harmful than helpful.

"There is evidence that echinacea can help in the short term, but long-term exposure can suppress the immune system," he says.

Another of the tablets' ingredients, vitamin C, may also be harmful in large quantities, he says.

He says 500 to 1,000 milligrams is the recommended daily dosage, while one tablet of Airborne contains 1,000 milligrams. According to Labbe, too much vitamin C can lead to kidney stones, nausea and diarrhea. Labbe recommends getting the daily amount of vitamin C through citrus fruits and vegetables. If that is not possible, Labbe recommends taking a multivitamin with vitamin C in it.

Although Labbe does not sing the praises of Airborne, he believes Knight-McDowell meant well.

"She had good intentions," he says. "But it is just not clinically documented to be effective."

The fact that the Food and Drug Administration does not approve the tablets worries some people.

"I trust the FDA, and if a medicine such as Airborne is not an FDA-approved product, then I remain skeptical," engineering sophomore Karen Chow says.

The package, however, warns users that the tablets have not been approved.

It reads, "This product has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. [It] is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

Labbe says people should think twice before taking Airborne.

"There are no regulations on it," he says. "Without regulations, you can't be sure of what is in there."

Chow says, "I would prefer to stick with products I know are safe and reliable."

But the product's popularity remains solid, and word of mouth continues to spread. It has done so well, in fact, that Knight-McDowell has developed three alternatives to the traditional orange-flavored tablet. Now there are lemon-lime tablets, junior tablets for children and sore throat lozenges.

Reach the reporter at kristi.eaton@asu.edu.



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