Cold-fX is an Olympian Embarrassment

Now should be a time to get excited and to be proud, we’re hosting the Olympics! Unfortunately, the games have been tainted for me due to their association with Cold-fX.

Cold-fX is a pill manufactured and marketed by Afexa Life Sciences (formerly CV Technologies) to “help reduce colds and flu”. It’s the official cold and flu remedy of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. It has many devout followers including a few Canadian sports celebrities like Olympic speed skater Clara Hughes and, more famously, Don Cherry. Sounds great, so what problem do I have? My problem is that Cold-fX doesn’t have the science to back up its claims.

Speed Skating
Clara Hughes, sponsored by Cold-fX

There have been a few studies that have examined the effectiveness of Cold-fX when taken over relatively long periods of time, such as 8 to 16 weeks. Of those studies, the results do not appear to be clinically significant. That should be pretty damning on its own, but it gets worse. Cold-fX is often marketed in a vague way that hints that it should be taken at the onset of cold or flu symptoms. The extra strength bottles have even been known to recommend use “at the first sign of colds of flu symptoms “. This does not agree with the published clinical evidence, since no studies have been published that examine this claim.

According to Science-Based Pharmacy:

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.

(For more about the details of the studies done on Cold-fX, I also recommend a comprehensive article from Ottawa Skeptics.)

Local newspaper columnist Dan Gardner complained about certain endorsements being made by Canadian athletes. He doesn’t think that it’s right for athletes to promote fast food and soft drinks, because those products are partly blamed for increasing obesity rates. One could quibble about the nutrition in junk food, but at least with McDonald’s you get what you’re paying for (tasty burgers, tastes may vary). With Cold-fX, we’re promised a weapon that fights colds. In TV ads it’s shown to stop colds dead in their tracks. That’s what they promise, but they still have yet to back up their claims after all these years. Maybe if their product was proven to be effective, it wouldn’t have failed miserably in the US market a few years ago. It’s embarrassing that Canadians have embraced a product that was rejected by a market that embraced another cold remedy that is even more dubious: Airborne (invented by a teacher!).

Cold-fX is just the start too. It looks like Afexa is starting to sell other “natural” products lacking in scientific prospect such as “Memory-fx” (warning, that site plays audio). It’s marketed as a memory and mental performance enhancer. It is derived from Ginkgo Biloba, a commonly recommended herbal supplement for enhancing memory and mental performance plus a fancy sounding proprietary derivation of Ginseng called HT1001. Sadly, the evidence for the effectiveness of Ginkgo Biloba is lacking. As for the effectiveness of HT1001, I could not find any published studies about it. All I could find were claims on the manufacturer’s website that it was proven safe and effective, with no references provided. Excuse me if I don’t take their word for it. I wouldn’t trust Afexa about their drug’s safety and effectiveness any more than I would Pfizer or Merck.

If Cold-fX doesn’t work, then why do so many people swear by it? The standard explanations for why any drug or treatment may appear effective apply. These include the placebo effect, confirmation bias, and regression to the mean, among other things.

We have regulations in this country to prevent pharmaceutical drugs from being sold without evidence. For political and ideological reasons those same regulations don’t apply to natural health products (NHPs). NHPs have a lower standard of evidence to meet before being sold. It’s embarrassing to see such a questionable product associated with an event that we as a country should be proud of. Personally, I’d rather see our athletes promoting fast food.

4 Responses to “Cold-fX is an Olympian Embarrassment”

  1. Jeff Orchard says:

    Thank you… seeing those stupid ads was so disheartening.

  2. Erica says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Not to mention their less than scrupulous accounting practices. Class action lawsuit, insider trading, the list goes on and on. Poor shareholders.
    Take some vitamin C instead!

  3. dave says:

    cold fx dont work at all and is a total fraud. i tried the regular one, the immunity one and the extra strenth one as directed over the passed 3 years and it failed miserably. i would not recomend this treatment at all as it never shortened the virus nor blocked it completely or reduced the symptoms. i might as well never took it at all. i recomend see a doctor and get antibiotics or tough it out as you will be anyway. save your money and dont put blind faith in false hope.

  4. Jodi says:

    I’ve heard Cold-FX recommended but I’ve never used it myself. Glad I didn’t buy any! Oh, and vitamin C won’t necessarily help your cold, either. It’s great against scurvy, though ;)

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  • Jonathan Abrams

    Jonathan Abrams is the latest founder and president of the Ottawa Skeptics. He organizes local events, makes media appearances as the token skeptic, and is one of the website maintainers. He is the host of the skepticism podcast The Reality Check. When he’s not thinking about science and skepticism, he’s working as a computer engineer, playing pinball, or doing the dishes.