TikTok is full of cold-fighting tips, from red onion water to marshmallows. But do they work?

TikTok is full of cold-fighting tips, from red onion water to marshmallows. But do they work?
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TikTok has turned into a go-to spot for users to share cold-fighting tips and tricks — some of which are backed by solid scientific research, and some of which definitely fall into the category of "dubious social media trend." Got a cough? Try stuffing a marshmallow in your mouth. Under the weather? Stick a potato in your sock, TikTokers tell you. But while there are indeed household staples that are genuinely proven to help prevent or treat illnesses, some of these online remedies don't work. How can you separate the helpful from the useless? Here, experts weigh in on social media's advice for curing what ails you.

Drinking Onion Water

It may sound gruesome, but some TikTokers swear that boiling red or yellow onions in water and drinking it took them from sick as a dog to back on their feet in a matter of days. Dr. Sameera Davuluri, assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham's department of family and community medicine, tells Yahoo Life that there is no evidence that drinking this onion concoction helps with a cold. If you’re not a fan of the taste of onion water, you can skip this one — especially if your gut is sensitive to onions (such as those on low FODMAP diets).

Making Immunity Cubes

Lots of TikTokers swear by their own personal health elixirs, which typically include things like orange juice mixed with ginger, honey, and turmeric. While these kinds of beverages won’t hurt you, and may cause some temporary relief, Dr. Niharika Khanna, a family physician and professor at the University of Maryland Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that these concoctions should not be considered an official treatment.

Putting a Potato in Your Sock

Can putting a piece of potato in your sock cure your cold? No, says Davuluri — even if the potato turns black, which some TikTokers swear is due to the virus leaving your body. “This is not true and has no health benefit,” she explains. If you want to get the most benefit from potatoes, you can try something a bit more fun: eating them! Potatoes are high in vitamin C, which can support immune function.

Eating Garlic by the Spoonful

Garlic is delicious in Italian dishes, less so when eaten raw as a clove, as some TikTokers do to fight off a cold. While it’s not taught in modern Western medicine as a treatment, garlic has been associated with lower cholesterol levels as well as a slew of other health benefits, though more research is needed. Dr. Anant Vinjamoori, chief medical officer of Modern Age, tells Yahoo Life that “garlic possesses antimicrobial properties,” but warns that “consuming a spoonful alone is unlikely to provide significant relief from a cold.”

Eating a Marshmallow to Stop a Cough

A TikToker went viral for one sweet sore throat fix: She claimed that her doctor told her a jumbo marshmallow before bed could alleviate symptoms of her long-lasting cough. The herb marshmallow root has long been associated with coating the throat, due to the presence of mucilage, a thick, gelatinous substance with adhesive properties known for its ability to provide a soothing and protective effect. If you feel like a marshmallow before bed helps your cough, there’s no reason not to consume one, assuming you enjoy the taste.

The Bottom Line

Dr. Anne Liu, a specialist in infectious diseases at Stanford Health Care, tells Yahoo Life that none of the TikTok trends are proven to prevent or treat a respiratory viral infection. While a healthy immune system helps to fight off these infections, you don’t need any special tricks in order to keep yourself healthy. She recommends sticking to the basics, like “getting enough sleep, getting regular exercise, reducing stress and eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables.”

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