Here is my buyer's guide for my email exclusive, “My Cold Season War Chest of High-Impact Supplements.”
While I focus primarily on cost-comparison of the best products from my favorite retailers, please keep in mind that choice of retailer also includes these other concerns: Amazon Prime offers the most consistent way to get free shipping in one or two days; Iherb has order minimums for free shipping but offers more control over your carrier; Thrive often has the lowest prices but requires a membership and doesn't have a very broad selection of supplements.
My preferred product right now based on both cost and composition is Jarrow's pharmaceutical-grade reduced glutathione. I take one to two capsules per meal whenever experiencing lung symptoms. Here are some buying options for the standard bottle with 60 500 mg capsules:
- Amazon: $18.61 for a one-time purchase, $17.68 for a subscription. Be careful when ordering that “subscription” isn't chosen if that isn't what you want. It's available for Prime free one-day shipping as well as Amazon Fresh delivery.
- Thrive Market: $19.95
- IHerb: $22.96
You can save a little extra money by buying the big 120-capsule bottle. Compared to the small bottle bought from the same web site, this saves you 8% at Iherb, but it doesn't save any money at Amazon, which is already almost 20% less expensive than Iherb. The big bottle isn't available at Thrive.
Note: Some people have asked me why I recommend this when glutathione can be broken down in the digestive tract. My answer: glutathione is absorbed in tact as well as broken down in multiple ways, one of which yields gamma-glutamylcysteine, which itself is far more bioavailable as a glutathione precursor than any other precursor simply because it bypasses the key regulated step in glutathione synthesis, thereby overcoming, among other things, the effects of insulin resistance or carbohydrate restriction. Oral glutathione definitely is bioavailable. N-acetylcysteine is too, but it doesn't bypass the first regulated step and it doesn't provide any glycine. Liposomal glutathione is almost certainly more bioavailable than the stuff I recommend but with no studies to show clearly how much more there's no basis to say whether it's more cost-effective than taking a higher dose of this stuff, and thus stuff is far more friendly to your wallet.
To balance cost and convenience, I currently use Health From the Sun capsules. However, while I have not tried it, The Ultimate Monolaurin powder by Inspired Nutrition appears to be much less expensive. To take Amazon prices as an example, Health from the Sun is 13 cents per 550 mg capsule, while The Ultimate Monolaurin is 5 cents per 550 mg dose, a savings of just over 60 percent.
There are considerations beyond price. For an illness, I would prefer portability to take them with each meal when I am away from home. On the other hand, I prefer to take 10 grams per day when sick, and at that rate the bottle only lasts five days.
Here are some buying options for both products:
- Health From the Sun at Amazon: $11.75 for a 90-count. You can save 11% by ordering two bottles, but that voids Prime eligibility. Each bottle lasts five days if taking 10 g/d for an acute illness.
- Inspired Nutrition at Amazon: $49 for 21 ounces or $24 for 7 ounces. At 10 g/d for an acute illness, the little jar lasts 18 days and the big jar lasts 56 days. Let's hope none of us ever get sick for that long! The big jar saves 32% over the little jar.
Unfortunately, Iherb's offerings aren't very impressive and Thrive doesn't sell monolaurin.
Gaia Throat Shield
I recommend the spray for the strongest acute effect and for the best prevention at the earliest sign of a throat tickle. However, the lozenges make for easier portability and they are more comforting if you have a sore throat and crave a slow continuous touch.
Here are some buying options for both products:
- The spray at Iherb: $15.84
- The lozenges at Iherb: $10.38
- The spray at Amazon: $17.10 (Prime eligible)
- The lozenges at Amazon: 20.38 (eligible for Prime one-day shipping; be careful of the subscription button)
Although Thrive carries a lot of Gaia products, it does not carry the Throat Shield at this time.
Zinc Acetate Lozenges
While I have traditionally been careless about which type of zinc I use, after looking at the scientific literature I recommend Life Extension Enhanced Zinc Lozenges and plan to use them going forward as my exclusive zinc supplement during the acute onset of a cold. These are the only lozenges I could find that used zinc acetate — by far and away the best form based both on basic science, patient data, and clinical trials — and does not contain other ingredients (e.g. citric acid) known to impair its efficacy.
I recommend taking 8 lozenges per day beginning immediately at the first sign a cold, spaced apart by one or two hours. I would stop taking them as soon as the cold is gone, and I would take copper supplements (see below) while taking the lozenges.
Update December 26, 2016: buying recommendations in the podcast episode dedicated to zinc lozengesThrough January 31, 2017, the best way to get these is to order them from the Life Extension web site, where buying four at a time is most cost-effective and buying one at a time is second best. For more information, see my .
When taking zinc above 50 mg/d, it becomes important to try to maintain a zinc-to-copper ratio between 2-to-1 and 15-to-1 in favor of zinc. To fight a cold, zinc lozenges need to provide at least 75 mg/d zinc, and I recommend 8 per day of the zinc acetate lozenges, which works out to about 150 mg of zinc. However, the delivery to the intestines of zinc acetate is considerably lower as a result of its accumulation in the mouth and nasal tissues, and I don't know exactly how much lower.
To simplify things, I would take about one capsule or tablet containing 2-3 mg copper with each meal (updated from 10 on December 26, 2016) while taking the zinc lozenges, and stop both supplements as soon as the cold is gone. The copper does not need to be taken at the same time as the zinc.
I don't have strong opinions about which copper supplement is best, but here are the options that seem most cost-effective:
- Source Naturals at Iherb is $5.67 for 120 3-mg tablets.
- Solgar at Amazon is $8.05 for 100 2.5-mg tablets and is eligible for Prime and fulfilled by Amazon.
Thrive doesn't seem to sell a copper-only supplement.
I use Gaia elderberry syrup, partly because it is standardized at a very high level of potency and partly because I'm so floored with their throat shield product that I've developed a little bit of fanboy brand loyalty for them. I follow the instructions on the bottle. Here are some buying options:
- Thrive: $19.95.
- Amazon: $21.44, available for Prime free one-day shipping and for Amazon Fresh delivery.
- Iherb: $21.78.
Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is mostly a prophylactic to me. I take a half teaspoon per day in the coldest four months of the year. I will take up to a couple of tablespoons per day in an acute illness but given the high omega-3 content, I try to balance acute uses with at least six egg yolks per day. I use Green Pastures fermented cod liver oil, and am interested in comparing it to Rosita's extra virgin cod liver oil, but haven't yet. I believe Green Pastures works great for people who like or tolerate the taste and don't have any symptoms of amine sensitivity when they take it. Some people do better with a fresh rather than fermented product and Rosita is great for that.
Here are some buying options for the fermented cod liver oil:
- Amazon: $29.97/bottle for 60 servings as capsules or $46.43 for 118 servings as liquid. The liquid is less expensive at 39 cents per serving compared to 50 cents per serving for the capsules. Eligible for Prime and fulfilled by Amazon.
- Thrive: $30/bottle for 120 capsules. Thrive doesn't sell the liquid and its flavor selection is limited.
Here is one buying option for the extra virgin cod liver oil:
- Amazon: $33.99 for 95 servings of liquid oil, which is 36 cents per serving. Not eligible for Prime and not fulfilled by Amazon.
Rosita is not sold by Thrive or Iherb.
From both personal experience and scientific literature, my feelings on vitamin C are mixed. Taking at least a gram a day during an acute illness, perhaps 2-8 grams, may be helpful and, unless you are at risk of kidney stones or other oxalate-related conditions, is probably harmless. I don't think it matters in this context whether it has rose hips or comes from acerola cherries. Certainly as a prophylactic I would eat vitamin C-rich foods, and if I wanted a boost, I would use some superfood extract. But for an acute megadose in a cold, I'd hedge my bets with a probable benefit from a few grams of pure ascorbic acid. While I have no strong recommendations, Amazon sells Bronson non-GMO bulk ascorbic acid powder for $25/kg, which is 2.5 cents per gram, which I believe is the most affordable non-GMO option.