Cold-fX: More Hype than Hope for Colds and the Flu

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Cold and flu season is in full swing here in Canada, and we’re all trying to avoid catching something, and recover faster if we’re already sick. Supported by endorsements from Canadian celebrities, and a recently announced tie-in with the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the biggest selling cold product in Canada is Cold-fX, manufactured by Edmonton-based Afexa Life Sciences. If it’s not already in a pharmacy near you, it will be soon.

What is Cold-fX?

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) has been used medicinally for centuries, most commonly as an “adaptogen” where it was and is still believed to be effective for everything from anemia to AIDS to impotence and even cancer. [1] Few uses have been evaluated scientifically, and when studied, ginseng has not been demonstrated to be conclusively effective for any medicinal use. [1] [2]

Colds can be caused by one of hundreds of viruses. In general, adults get 4-6 colds per year.  There are few effective treatments for colds, with most products simply relieving symptoms, without affecting the duration of the cold. Influenza (the flu) is caused by one of three influenza viruses (A, B, or C). Influenza can cause much more serious infections than colds, especially in the very young, the very old, and other high-risk individuals.  Both colds and flu are easily transmitted by hand contact or by inhalation. Both cause a cascade of immune reactions in response to an infection.  Headache, fever, fatigue, congestion, cough, and sore throat are all common symptoms.

How ginseng might prevent colds or flu is not known with certainty.  Research suggests American ginseng does seem to have an effect on elements of the immune system. Monocytes, tumor necrosis factor, natural killer cells and other factors involved in cell-based immunity seem to be stimulated by ginseng. However, how this might relate to viral infections, like colds and the flu, is not clear. In fact stimulation of interleukin and tumor necrosis factor might actually increase the severity of cold or flu symptoms. [1]

CV Technologies has developed a formulation of ginseng root which is claimed to be consistent (“standardized”) with respect to the content of polysaccharides and ginsenosides, using the company’s proprietary, patented process, ChemBioPrint.  It is these components of the ginseng root that are believed to be the active components for the prevention and treatment of colds and influenza infections.  The rationale for standardization of herbal medicines is a good one: if the active ingredients are known, the manufacturer can ensure a consistent product.

How has Cold-fX been studied to treat or prevent colds or the flu?

For the purposes of this review, let’s consider the available evidence that has been published. There are only three relevant trials, all funded by the manufacturer:

McElhaney et al. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 2004. [3]

This study examined whether Cold-fX could prevent respiratory illness (i.e., the common cold or influenza) in 198 healthy nursing home residents over an eight or twelve week period. (Two separate studies were combined in the results.) Patients took Cold-fX 200mg twice a day, or a placebo. Patients and physicians were not aware (i.e., double-blind) of the treatment assigned.

Results: Cold-fX was as well tolerated as the placebo. In each study, there was no significant difference between the groups in the number of patients that reported cold or flu symptoms. In addition, there was no significant difference in the number of laboratory-confirmed flu cases. However, when the studies were combined, the difference in lab-confirmed flu cases was statistically significantly less in the Cold-fX group (1%) than the placebo group (9%).  The act of combining the two trials has been criticized as means to make the results appear statistically meaningful.

Bottom line: If we accept the combining of the two trials, we can conclude the following: In nursing home residents, when taken for 8 to 12 weeks, Cold-fX appeared to reduce laboratory-confirmed cases of colds and flu, but had no effect when considering what patients actually reported.

Predy et al. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2005. [4]

This study examined the effectiveness of Cold-fX to prevent colds and flu in 323 healthy adults, ranging in age from 18 to 65 (average age 42). Anyone with any significant illness (e.g., diabetes, heart or lung disease) was not permitted to participate. Also double-blinded, participants were instructed to take Cold-fX 400mg once daily (two, 200mg capsules) or a placebo, for four months. A daily journal was used to record cold symptoms. No laboratory verification of colds was performed.

Results: Patients taking Cold-fX had 0.68 colds/person and those taking placebo had 0.93 colds/person – a reduction of 0.25 colds over the study period. Patients taking Cold-fX had fewer cold symptoms, and for fewer days, but the duration of each cold was not different between groups. Cold-fx was well tolerated.

Bottom line: A healthy adult taking Cold-fX might expect to have 0.25 less colds over a 16 week period. This has led some to question whether this result is clinically relevant.)

McElhaney et al. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2006. [5]

This paper is the most recent, but is actually the oldest study, being conducted in 1998. The journal’s quality is questionable, with an Editor-in-Chief who is homeopath and an acupuncturist, and journal content that includes “research” on implausible, non-science based treatments such as therapeutic touch, acupuncture, reiki, and, not surprisingly, homeopathy. Setting this aside, let’s consider the paper itself.

This very small study (43 people) examined the effectiveness of Cold-fX to prevent colds or the flu in community-dwelling (i.e., not in nursing homes) seniors, over the age of 65. Anyone with a “medical condition” (not well defined) was not permitted to participate, nor was anyone on medications (again, not well defined). Also double-blind, participants were told to take Cold-fX 400mg (two, 200mg capsules), or a placebo, once daily for 16 weeks. Almost no information is provided to help the reader determine if two groups were similar with respect to background and medical history. Patients were asked to record any cold symptoms in a daily journal, and, if the product they were taking helped reduce their symptoms. After four weeks of taking Cold-fX, all participants received the flu vaccine. Patients were then assessed at week 8 and week 16.

Results: The number of patients reporting colds or flu symptoms did not differ significantly over the 16 weeks. However, the authors conducted a post-hoc analysis and looked at different time periods. They observed that in the second eight week period, there were fewer colds (7 vs. 13) and they were of a shorter duration (5.6 days vs. 12.6 days), in the Cold-fX group. There were no significant differences in the adverse events reported by the two groups.

Bottom line: Over a 16 week period Cold-fx failed to demonstrate an improvement over placebo. Given the high number of study design flaws, data omissions, the poor quality journal, and long publication delay, it is difficult to draw conclusions from the results. At best, it is suggestive that Cold-fX needs to be taken for at least eight weeks, with a flu shot after four weeks, before it may have any noticeable effect.

What does the science tell us, then?

The most persuasive evidence comes from the Predy study. In addition, it’s from the most reputable journal of the three cited. The effect, while statistically significant, is not all that meaningful. The 2004 trial didn’t show any meaningful impact of Cold-fX, and the 2006 trial’s data analysis is questionable: In any case it doesn’t reveal any impact until the drug is taken for eight weeks. Based on the three trials, it seems reasonable to reserve final judgement on Cold-fX. If Cold-fX was really as effective as the advertising implies (“Stop colds. Start now”), the effect would be obvious across all three trials. If it does have any effect at all at preventing colds, the effect very, very modest.

What if I feel like I’m coming down with a cold? Will starting Cold-fX now have any effect?

There is no published evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of Cold-fX if started at the onset of a cold.

CV Technologies offers a 300mg form of their product (“Extra-Strength Cold-fX“) with the directions to start “at the first sign of colds of flu symptoms”. There are no published trials documenting the effectiveness of the 300mg dosage strength, or evaluating the dosing instructions of 12 capsules over the first 3 days, in reducing the duration of colds or the flu.

How safe is Cold-fX?

There’s no published evidence with Cold-fX suggesting it can be used safely for longer than 4 months.  American ginseng has been associated with gastrointestinal, nervous, and cardiovascular effects,but this does not appear to be different than placebo. [1] It is not considered safe for use in pregnant or breast-feeding women. [1] As the clinical trials did not allow most people with medical conditions to participate, its safety in these groups is unclear. Ginseng interacts with several prescription drugs, especially warfarin (Coumadin), so anyone considering Cold-fX should consult their pharmacist, to ensure that Cold-fX is safe to take with their prescription or non-prescription medications. [1]

Conclusion

Cold-fX is a undeniable Canadian sales success, but this seems to be due more to marketing, rather than science. The data published to date suggests that it may have some sort of a biological effect- but it’s a small one, and for many people that take it, the data suggests it will not be effective in preventing colds or the flu.

It’s important to point out the positive aspects of this product: the manufacturer has taken some steps to address standardization problems inherent with natural health products, there is a plausible (though not well established) mechanism of action, and several clinical trials have been performed (albeit each with flaws), with additional trials underway.

Cold-fX is priced at around CAD$0.45 per capsule, which works out to about $0.90 per day. Using the data above, four months of treatment will cost about $100. You need to take it for 16 months (say, four winters in a row) to prevent a single cold, according to the Predy trial. So the cost of preventing a single cold episode works out to be roughly $400. Is this worth it? That’s for you to decide.

If the cost looks excessive compared to the benefit, consider the following: One of the best thing you can do to avoid getting a cold is easy, costs next to nothing, and has been demonstrated to be convincingly effective: wash your hands frequently.

For More Information:

For more information about the treatment of colds and the flu, I recommend the excellent Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which provides a thorough overview of the efficacy of different products.

As I completed this review I came across an excellent (and more detailed) analysis by Ottawa Skeptics that delves a little deeper into the Cold-fX phenomenon. It does a thorough job of contrasting the marketing claims with what the science actually demonstrates.

References

[1] American Ginseng. In: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database [database on the Internet]. Stockton (CA): Therapeutic Research Faculty; 1995-2009 [cited 10 February 2009] Available from: http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Subscription required to view.

[2]Vogler B K, Pittler M H, Ernst E. The efficacy of ginseng: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 1999; 55(8): 567-575. (Summary here)

[3] Janet E. Mcelhaney, Stefan Gravenstein, Sharon K. Cole, Edward Davidson, Dennis O’Neill, Sharon Petitjean, Barry Rumble, Jacqueline J. Shan (2004). A Placebo-Controlled Trial of a Proprietary Extract of North American Ginseng (CVT-E002) to Prevent Acute Respiratory Illness in Institutionalized Older Adults Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 52 (1), 13-19 DOI: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2004.52004.x

[4] Gerald N. Predy, Vinti Goel, Ray Lovlin, Allan Donner, Larry Stitt, Tapan K. Basu (2005). Efficacy of an extract of North American ginseng containing poly-furanosyl-pyranosyl-saccharides for preventing upper respiratory tract infections: a randomized controlled trial Canadian Medical Association Journal, 173 (9), 1043-1048 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.1041470

[5] Janet E. McElhaney, Vinti Goel, Benjamin Toane, Johnathan Hooten, Jacqueline J. Shan (2006). Efficacy of COLD-fX in the Prevention of Respiratory Symptoms in Community-Dwelling Adults: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo Controlled Trial Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 12 (2), 153-157 DOI: 10.1089/acm.2006.12.153

Update: 2009-09-25: Updated manufacturer’s name to Afexa Life Sciences from CV Technologies, to reflect the organization’s name change.

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27 thoughts on “Cold-fX: More Hype than Hope for Colds and the Flu

  1. This is a very unfair and rather transparent attempt to damage the reputation of Cold-FX. Your conclusions based on the the clinical trials cited above are misleading nor do you include the results of more recent trials. Are you aware that the National Cancer Institute is currently running a trial in the United States to see if Cold-FX can be of aid to lymphocytic cancer patients, who, because of the nature of that kind of cancer, are particularly susceptible to upper respiratory infections? There is no doubt that Cold-FX boosts the immune system. That is why Health Canada has approved Cold-FX’s claims, and it is why Cold-FX is the best selling cold and flu remedy in Canada. By the way, the Chinese have been running clinical trials on ginseng for 2,000 years, and they love it. Cold-FX is a derivative of ginseng that chemically isolates the herb’s most effective components. You can take a smaller dose on a day-to-day basis for maintenance or a higher dose when a you’re coming down with something. There are a lot of impostors out there, but Cold-FX is not one of them.

  2. Thank for your feedback. If there are additional published clinical trials examining the effectiveness of Cold-FX in the prevention or treatment of colds and the flu, please let me know where they are published, and I’ll review them. There were no other relevant published trials cited either by the manufacturer or appearing in a PubMed search.

    If you feel the interpretation of the results is misleading, please identify the specific concerns you have with the analysis.

    Science-based health professionals don’t really care if something sells well, or if it’s been used for thousands of years. What we care about is if it works, and if the risks of therapy outweigh the known benefits.

  3. Great article! Could you perhaps expand on the plausibility of the mechanism of action? I am unfamiliar with studies assessing the mechanism and I am perplexed at how this active ingredient, a polysaccharide, could ever be absorbed systemically. An oral dose would almost certainly be digested and absorbed as mono- or disaccharides or not absorbed at all. In fact the Cold-FX promotional literature states that the product is likely metabolized as any carbohydrate would be.

    • Thanks for your comment. There’s enough data out there (not just studies by CV Technologies) that indicates that ginseng given orally does seem have some biological effects, not all due to the polysaccharides. However, the clinical benefit is questionable, and has not been convincingly demonstrated.

  4. “the Chinese have been conducting clinical trials for 2000 years…and they love it”

    Sure they love it, but does it work? 2000 years and they still haven’t figured out if it’s effective, maybe it’s time to test something else!

  5. “the Chinese have been conducting clinical trials for 2000 years…and they love it”

    OK, but this says nothing about its efficacy for cold relief. In fact, most of the claims for ginseng I’ve seen in eastern medicine are about increased life expectancy, and because of that it tends to be a “magic ingredient” in a lot of herbal concoctions.

    Now there was some research out of McMaster a few years ago that suggested ginseng does have a mild vasodilative effect. If so, it would at least explain the origin of the claims…lower BP = lower risk of strokes and coronary artery diseases.

    But — it’s a big leap from there to saying everyone should take ginseng, or that ginseng cures all ills, no matter how much the Chinese love it. You have to determine that it’s the most effective method of lowering BP, weigh that against the known risks, and determine appropriate dosage levels. Eastern medicine is notoriously fuzzy about this sort of stuff…useful for pointing researchers in the right direction, but hardly something to base treatment on.

  6. I wonder if both sides of this question don`t have something to gain,either financially or scientifically.I would like to let my opinion be known,and that is the product ,cold-fx ,works for me better than anything else I have found.I’m 52 y.o.,reasonably good health,and have approx.1 cold per year.I use it,and hope it stays on the market.A short endorsement,like the severity of my colds.

  7. I’ve looked at their ingredients. There is another reason it really isn’t worth what they charge for it.
    From their website, the main ingredients of Cold FX are furanoses and pyranoses.
    Five membered sugars resemble furan, hence furanoses.
    Six membered rings resemble pyran, hence pyranoses.

    Sucrose is a six member ring.
    Glucose is a five member ring.

    So, we have sucrose and glucose from ginseng stuck into a capsule??

    How is that NOT just a capsule full of “sugars”?

    http://www.ncl.ac.uk/dental/oralbiol/oralenv/tutorials/polysaccharides/basics.htm#pyran_furan

    Arabinose is a crystalline pentose sugar.
    Rhamnose is methyl pentose sugar.
    (This means they are 5-member sugars, just monosaccharides)
    More information:

    http://www.rspharmchem.com/rhamnose.htm

    Rhamnose is a raw material for the chemical synthesis of furaneol, a strawberry flavour.

    So, if sugar and flavoring can cure the common cold, HIV, and cancer, then why do we still get these ailments!

    The patent for Cold FX can be found at:

    http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=7,413,756.PN.&OS=PN/7,413,756&RS=PN/7,413,756

    It confirms what their website says. 5 And 6 ring sugars are the identified active ingredients that they stuff in their capsules. Not much to look at.

  8. The product was recommended by my sister. We both have underlying health and immune problems that have left us ill most of the winter. I also suffer from upper respiratory illness that just refuses to go away and am tired of ending up with walking pneumonia to end the cold season.

    This product has meant 2 falls and 2 winters illness free and it works for us. The relief is well worth it!! I would prefer more studies, because I don’t think we should be paying a lot for sugar if that is the main ingredient, but if not they, someone else would be profiting from our wishing to feel better more often then ill! Word of mouth will keep this product on the shelves…

    Most research studies, no matter WHO does them, are often so poorly done and with such poor logic and statistics, that even I could come up with more relevant results … Why are poorly done “studies” even being recognized?

    • If you look at where some of the Cold-fx research has been published, it’s telling. The highest quality trial is in the CMAJ…the others are in much lesser journals. The data overall are unimpressive. Given the sales of Cold-Fx, it should be a simple matter for the company to pay for a high quality clinical trial that answers these persistent questions about efficacy. But why bother, when the product is already a sales success?

  9. Take it if it works and don’t take it if it doesn’t. There is obviously something to it’s efficacy or it wouldn’t be popular. It works for me and I do notice a difference in cold severities. my colds are less severe! IT DOES NOT CURE COLDS!! GET IT?! You cannot take this and go out dancing in the rain nude! It works for some people and it doesn’t for others. So live with it! And just because there aren’t conclusive, ‘neutral’ studies out there published describing its efficacy, so what? Does everything need to be ‘scientifically’ studied (oh let’s all bow to the science gods) in order to be effective. Is everything that is real only real after your so-invoked ‘science’ discovers or invents it and not before? And about these chemistry-jargon references, … nicely done, since a majority of readers will not be chemistry majors and will just eat it right up eh!! What are you skeptics so threatened of that you have to expend such valuable time and effort into trashing Cold-FX anyways? GET A LIFE! (Or at least another job with a non-vested-interest employer…)

    • @God – Thanks for dropping by the blog. As background, the blog looks at the science behind claims made about products found in pharmacies. Since you’re here, do you mind if I ask you a few questions, so I can better understand your perspective?
      1. Do you think that when companies make claims about a product, those claims should be accurate?
      2. When manufacturers tell us to “trust the science”, what is the best approach? Given they have a vested interest in our purchase of the product, should we just accept what a manufacturer tells us, and stay ignorant? Or is it fair to evaluate the evidence upon which their scientific claims are made?
      3. When scientific claims are made that a product stops colds, what is the best approach to evaluating this?
      4. If people pay money for a product that is claimed to stop or prevent colds, should it work better than placebo sugar pills? How much better to be worth the cost?
      5. If a product is popular, does that mean it works?

      In the spirit of full disclosure, here are my responses to these questions:
      1. Yes.
      2. Skeptical inquiry is critical to distinguish established evidence from unsubstantiated claims
      3. A scientific approach gives us the tools and framework to evaluate medical claims in a way that minimizes bias
      4. Yes. If the extent of improvement can be estimated, so can the value-for-money.
      5. Not necessarily.

  10. Hi God, funny you should be browsing this blog.
    I happen to be a Chemistry major, of Chinese ancestry, working in the nutraceutical business. This must be the complete and total trifecta when it comes to Cold-FX right?

    I have family members who swear up and down about the benefits of ginseng, their belief is firm, and I’m sure they have ancient lineages documenting its effectiveness. They have no vested interest in lying about this, nor do I have any reason to doubt them.

    Cold-FX makers Afexa however, do have a vested interest: if you believe their product works, you will give them money in order to buy more of it. Isn’t it fair to ask for proof a product works rather than taking their word for it?

    I don’t want to do any dirt flinging, but a similar incident involving Afexa occurred, where they were again caught in a position of vested-self interest: they were sued for misrepresenting their American sales numbers in order to make themselves look better.

    The relevant stories are covered here:

    http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/story.html?id=5838ba01-9b2b-4427-a5bc-f8402f2eb968&k=94313

    http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Cold+maker+settles+with+investors/2001145/story.html

    When you put people in a position where they can make their own claims, similar things occur. That’s why all medical journals are independent and peer reviewed, someone without a vested interest is investigating the claims of someone else. Call it science-mumbo-jumbo if you’d like, but I prefer to think of it as eliminating personal bias. (We could go into companies like Monsanto who fund independent reviews, but stifle any negative data from getting out, but that’s another story.)

    At work I have seen many products come off the line. These products claims run the gamut from breast growth, to male virility, to delaying menopause, or tamer things like multivitamins or mineral supplements. I think it’s silly for a person to believe a pill will somehow make your breasts bigger within 2-3 weeks, and stay that way even after discontinuing the treatment. But it comes down to doing no harm. I and many others like me do our best to ensure these products do no harm through rigorous testing, and quality control.

    If a friend asked me about buying breast growth pills, I would tell her there has been no proof that they work, and gently steer her towards not wasting her money on it. The same would apply with Cold-FX. Ginseng does have a traditional usage as an immunological booster, and has shown signs of being a vasodilator; however the traditionally studied usage is long-term consumption and not as prevention of the on-set of a cold.

    If your only concern is doing no harm, then fine, Cold-FX is fine and dandy. But if your belief system runs deeper than that, or if someone you care about is choosing to spend their money on an unproven medication that may or may not work better than a sugar pill, wouldn’t you ask for more data before committing?

  11. This is an existential moment: Who am I going to believe? My own experiences with ColdFX or the minimal research done on its effectiveness? In the past two years, I’ve aborted colds and sinus infections with large doses of ColdFX and vitamin C. I happened on this site because I want to order more of it. Woke up yesterday morning with a sore throat and lots of drainage and coughing- all signs that I’d be in bed a few days. I’m back at work this morning; still a little congested but it’s waning. I took six ColdFX tablets yesterday with a couple grams of C. Maybe experimental subjects in these reported studies weren’t given adequate doses.

  12. Interesting conversation. My experiences with Cold-Fx, taken in large doses only when I encountered the onset of a cold, that I often woke up the next day or at least, the second day, and the cold was gone (something I rarely noticed in the past).

    I subscribe to the Nutrition Action Healthletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which I always find an interesting and objective read. They wrote the following on Cold Remedies:

    “Bottom line: Until more studies are done, it’s too
    early to conclude that Cold-fx can shorten—or cut
    your odds of catching—a cold or the flu. Even so,
    Cold-fx is the only remedy we found with any evidence
    that it might improve your chances of getting through
    the cold and flu season without coming down with
    something”

    http://www.cspinet.org/litigation/pdf/airborne_NAH.pdf

    So, yes, they agree… no conclusive evidence, but still better results than all the competitors. LOL, so if you were to try ‘something’, this probably is a better choice than the others. I personally take some still, when I feel the symptoms but *NEVER* take it on a regular basis.

  13. Something is unclear to me. In the phrase “0.25 less colds over a 16 week period” it sounds like poor grammar. Is “less” colds supposed to mean “fewer” colds, or is the use of “less” a deliberate measure to convey a subtle difference in meaning?

    I’m not merely quibbling about grammar. It sounds like the results of occurrence of colds across a group of individuals is being applied statistically to the likelihood of effectiveness for a single individual. But the reality, I think, is that it’s not that Cold FX is effective such-and-such a percentage of the time for EVERY individual; rather, it seems to be effective for some individuals and less so for others. In this way, I think the interpretation of the data may be flawed.

    Should the question not be, then, what is different in those individual cases in which it seems to be effective? Could it be that those individuals for whom it is effective are doing something else right which, combined with Cold FX, leads to a reduction in number of colds, duration of symptoms, severity of symptoms, or whatever? There are numerous lifestyle factors that could potentially undermine the effectiveness of the product which, in the absence of those factors, may yet prove to be significantly effective. Or, likewise, there could be lifestyle factors that enhance the product’s effectiveness.

    The data does not refute the possibility that for some individuals Cold FX is extremely effective. I’m not saying this is necessarily the case, but if it is — and again, the data leaves the possibility open — it’s worth investigating.

    • The statement is grammatically poor but was an attempt to distill population-level findings to patient-level relevance. I don’t think there are data to identify any subgroup that benefited. We have to be cautious about post-hoc data dredging to find correlations between those that didn’t get colds, as it’s inevitable we’ll find something if we run enough subgroup analyses. From an efficacy perspective we have to evaluate the drug from the population level, from the perspective of everyone that receives it, because we don’t have any a priori way of identifying responders.

  14. I do agree that scientific minds need scientific answers. Do I need scientific research for everything, no. When you go to a restaurant and try a new dish do you need a 20 page essay by a popular lab to tell me to order a shrimp pasta. Bottom line try it and if it works then great, if not then don’t buy it again. I don’t take it all year but at the first signs of a cold I do take it with 50-60g of vitamin C and I can see the difference between myself and the rest of m family, and that is all the evidence I need.

    • Geoff in your restaurant example, I believe you’re conflating something that’s a matter of opinion “well, I like Lady Gaga” vs a testable claim “If I throw this ball in the air, it will come down.”

      Cold FX makes a very testable claim, like my gravity example. However, in my gravity example, gravity is not subject to placebo. The placebo effect, however, is well documented. For example, if you tell someone they’re drinking $100 bottle of wine, they’ll truly enjoy it more even though it’s $2 plonk.

      Cold FX does not state “well, try it because it seems to work for us”. They state clearly it’s clinically proven. What does that mean? The author of this blog has examined that claim.

  15. Well, as a scientist of sorts, I must admit the results of the studies are annoyingly weak. I appreciate the skeptical blog, but in this case I would have liked to know about the implied process (what are the immune cells purported to increase), whether is was measured or not. The reality is that science is ill prepared to do really good ingested chemical analysis’ in a meaningful way. My guess is that this company, were really on to something….but realized that there was very little chance they could somehow get a bunch of people together, all at the same time with onset of colds, and do the proper study…so they managed the problem as good as can be expected. I have noticed HUGE spikes in ‘feeling good’ when I take just two tablets and notice that if I am coming down with a cold it might as well give up, cause the sniffles go away after one Kleenex. This past year was the first I didn’t get sick even once in a long time and I had every reason to actually be more sick than normal owing to stress, baby sick from day care all the time etc. I originally tried the product after already being sick, and it did not seem to help much, but who knows how long the symptoms were to last otherwise. My largest caution is that the immune system has a normal way it runs things and somehow fooling it to send more troops might be something you won’t want to do every day. In fact, the studies done above lead me to suspect that the method of going on and on and on would predict failure, not help the cause.

    Final point? Anyone out there break open a pill and eat the contents straight? There is no flippin way that’s sugar all by itself!…very concentrated and potent tasting substance…I recommend it to everyone I know with the above admonitions.

    • Last year I went a year without a head cold. The only thing I seemed to be doing different in life is I was using my condo’s sauna 2-3 days a week. Ah ha! Must be the sauna! Or, no. It might have been an odd year when I got lucky and avoided colds. If I was taking Cold FX, I’m sure I would have attributed my cold-proof year to Cold FX. The next year if colds came back, I might think “oh it’s because I’ve changed my diet but luckily the Cold FX is keeping the colds from being even worse.” One can rationalize it anyway you want.

      Also, consider the gambler’s bias. Gambler’s tend to report their wins and rarely trumpet their losses. If you’re spending $400 a year on Cold FX, you might tend to remember those random occasions when get a less severe cold, credit Cold FX, and file drawer or explain away those times when Cold FX didn’t seem to work on a cold.

      End of the day, there is only one way to eliminate this complex chain of bias. Double blind placebo trials. It can be done. It’s not difficult, not difficult like, say, trying to set up a valid placebo for acupuncture. Cold FX has the money to do it.

  16. I used to live in northern Alberta, a nasty place in the winter time. To make matters worse I worked for a oil company for 16 years……. with the pollution, bus rides to work (with sick people) and the cold weather I was sick almost half the winter.

    Desperate to try anything I used Cold FX as a daily and upped the dose as precribed when getting sick or sick…. I followed that process for one winter… the results were: Nothing was different from any other winter, I was sick with the same frequency as always….

    I came to find that getting a good sleep, avoiding hangovers and low stress, worked the best for me.

    PS. Good Article !!!

  17. Pingback: Cold-fX redux: « Sarah's asthma blog

  18. Just a quick bout of curiosity. I’m not really concerned with the efficacy of this product, but I am concerned and uncertain about the warning that it’s not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Is there an explanation as to why it isn’t safe for pregnant women? If it is indeed just a sexed up sugar pill, then what is causing danger to pregnancy?

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