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COLD-FX: Just a Placebo?

Radha Subramaniam
We coexist with millions and zillions of viruses and bacteria in the universe. They are probably the most efficient of all hackers, capable of cracking the strongest of passwords, breaking our body’s defence mechanism, invading our bodies and causing infection. They are forever changing, adapting and upgrading their form and coming up with new strategies and mechanisms to attack us and do it as easily as we upgrade software on our computers.

cold-fx The influenza virus, one of the cohabitants of our universe is known for its resilience and adaptability. In an attempt to thwart the impact of the virus which wreaks havoc all through the flu season, researchers from the University of Alberta, headed by Dr. Jacqueline Shan, launched the wonder drug COLD-FX, made from an extract of polysaccharides found in the root of North American Ginseng, known for improving and stimulating immunity. Cold-FX is sold by Valeant Canada.

Health Canada stamped its approval in 2011, based on reports submitted by the makers which raised many eyebrows among physicians. If the results merited approval, then why haven’t the makers disclosed the details to the public and put a rest to all the speculations surrounding the drug?

question Lack of Credible Evidence: There is no documented evidence to attest the efficacy of Cold FX. So, how is it that COLD-FX is the most widely sold natural cure for cold in Canada (according to Consumer Health Products of Canada) and boasts of brand ambassadors like Olympics Skiing Champion Alexandre Bilodeau?

The Canadian Medical Association Journal released the report on a research conducted in 2005.Two groups of normal adults (age 18-65) with a record of at least two bouts of cold in a year, were given Cold FX or a placebo, twice a day, for 4 months. The results indicated a very minor difference (< 2%) and were too inconsequential, to be considered relevant or credible.

In 2014, Dr. McElhaney, a senior scientist, conducted a research to determine a new valiant (or should we say Valeant) claim that combining Cold-FX with a flu shot helps prevent cold and flu. The study involved adults over 65 who had already taken flu shots and were put on a placebo or Cold-FX for six months. They were later screened for symptoms, response and presence of flu or other viruses. The consensus - “Cold FX bears no outcome on the number, severity, or duration of upper respiratory infections”.

Cold FX has a list of similar citations and medical trial reports on its website, corroborating their research, all of them funded by the makers themselves. The company’s marketing gimmicks, taglines and tall claims are all aimed at attracting ignorant consumers leaving plenty of room for scepticism.

placebo Dosage: The prescribed dose on the bottle is two tablets, twice a day (12 years and older) over four months for healthy adults and six months for seniors. However, Valeant, proclaims that increasing the dosage when the symptoms begin, guarantees instant relief from cold and flu. Health Canada is yet to endorse this claim, but how many of us are even aware of this?

Variants: Even as we debate the efficacy of COLD-FX and await concrete evidence that it actually works, the makers seem to have no such qualms about their product. They have introduced a series of variants with more misleading claims - COLD-FX Extra (Stronger dose-300 mg as compared to 200 mg in the regular variety), Cold-FX First signs (taken only after the onset of first signs of cold and flu).

Healthcare professionals and Family Physicians do not recommend taking Cold FX and reiterate that it has no medical significance. Cold-FX is categorized and sold as a natural health product. The amount of research and evidence imposed by Health Canada to approve natural health products seems pretty lax as opposed to prescription drugs. Many physicians feel this has indirectly paved the way for many dubious and commercial health products in the market. The verdict - “The virus triumphs yet again”.
Radha Subramaniam February 20, 2016

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