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2 essentials this doctor stocks up on every cold and flu season

2 essentials this doctor stocks up on every cold and flu season


Temperatures are dropping and germs are spreading, which means people are looking for ways to bolster their immune system and fight off sneezing and coughing.

While over-the-counter medications are a common way to ward off sickness, recently the Food and Drug Administration found that a key ingredient in many of the OTC medicines for cold and allergy symptom relief isn’t as effective at clearing up nasal congestion.

“Generally I try to avoid taking the over-the-counter medications if I can,” says Dr. John Mafi, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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“My biggest focus is on prevention, so I really try, personally, to exercise, to eat very healthy, to get plenty of sleep, manage stress and avoid excess alcohol, things like that. So, I can stay strong and healthy,” Mafi tells CNBC Make It.

But realistically, there are times when Mafi gets sick despite his best efforts. In those moments, he reaches for two things before buying OTC medicines.

2 items this doctor stocks up on every cold and flu season

1. Honey

For years, people have claimed that eating honey, especially locally-collected honey, is a great way to lessen seasonal allergies. It turns out that honey may be a beneficial way to mitigate cold symptoms, too.

When respiratory infections begin circulating at higher rates, Mafi keeps honey on hand to pair with some warm tea. According to a systematic review published in 2021 in the British Medical Journal, “honey was effective in reducing the duration and severity of common cold symptoms, particularly things like sore throat,” he says.

I use honey for the common cold, and it’s perfectly safe.

Dr. John Mafi

Primary Care Physician

The review found that honey may even be more effective than usual care for reducing symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. “Honey is cheap, readily available, and has virtually no side effects, and doctors can recommend it as a suitable alternative to antibiotics,” according to the researchers of the study.

Honey does have known antimicrobial properties that’s been used in medicine for thousands of years,” Mafi says. “I use honey for the common cold, and it’s perfectly safe.”

Mafi warns that honey shouldn’t be used, especially in its raw form, to treat colds for babies because it can cause botulism, a rare but life-threatening condition that attacks the body’s nervous system. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend giving honey to children younger than one year of age.

For people living with diabetes, Mafi suggests being mindful of sugar intake when using honey. And people who are allergic to bees and wasps should also be careful about eating honey, Dr. Timothy Wong, board-certified family medicine doctor and medical expert for JustAnswer, told CNBC Make It in April.

2. Garlic

You probably use garlic to spice up your meals, but that may not be all it’s good for. Around cold and flu season, Mafi stocks up on garlic for symptom relief for colds.

“There is a small amount of evidence that garlic can help reduce the severity and duration of the common cold,” Mafi says. “There were one or two randomized trials, and my wife’s Armenian so that’s their folk remedy for colds. So, I’ve been influenced by that.”

A 2014 systematic review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews included a randomized trial where 146 people were directed to either take a garlic supplement or a placebo for 12 weeks.

At the end of the experiment, the group that took the garlic supplements had around a 60% lower risk of developing a cold than the group that didn’t take the supplements. Though, researchers didn’t find major difference in the recovery time from the colds between the two groups.

The only harm with that is you get bad breath.

Dr. John Mafi

Primary Care Physician

However, the systematic review noted that trials that claim garlic is effective at preventing and treating a cold “appear to rely largely on poor-quality evidence.”

Another randomized controlled trial published in 2016 in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that people who ate 2.56 grams of aged garlic for 90 days during cold and flu season had shorter and less severe colds than those who didn’t.

Even with the limited evidence, eating garlic is extremely low risk when it comes to safety, Mafi says. “The only harm with that is you get bad breath,” he jokes. “But garlic’s a healthy food.”

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