The Onion
By Dr. Mark Strengler

It has also been a medicine for many centuries, particularly in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines. But whether you consume onion for its flavor or value its medicinal properties, there's no question that you get hearty benefits.

Often, practitioners of natural medicine focus on looking for the "new". It's exciting to discover a potent healing supplement that is being researched or developed for the first time or the newly discovered healing power of some food. However, sometimes old news is the best news. There are certain foods that have been around centuries. Their potent medicinal effects are no secret, their story deserves to be told again. Such is the case with the lowly onion (Allium sativum).

Most cultures around the world use onions as a seasoning that lends pungency to many dishes. It has also been a medicine for many centuries, particularly in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines. But whether you consume onion for its flavor or value its medicinal properties, there's no question that you get hearty benefits from the allium every time you take a bite.

During the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant requested and received a shipment of onions to treat the soldiers who had dysentery.

Just generations ago, it was common for people to make an onion poultice to help cure sore throats - a practice that proved its usefulness from the wild frontier to the urban landscapes of America.

Today, scientists who have explored the components of the common onion have discovered that it does, indeed, possess medicinal properties that are very similar to those of garlic. It has antimicrobial qualities, reduces blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, and helps lower elevated blood-sugar levels.

Onions contain dozens of powerful medicinal ingredients, including:
  • Sulfur compounds called thiosulfinates, which are thought to have strong anti-inflammatory effects and help with detoxification
  • Flavonoids
  • Phenolic acids, sterols, pectin, and volatile oils
  • Vitamin C
You don't need to restrict your appetite to one particular type of onion, either. Other members of the allium family are beneficial, too. Scallions often called spring or green onions contain even more vitamin C than white or yellow onions. The green kind are also high in folate, which is one of the essential nutrients. The small onions called shallots are very rich in vitamin A, as well.
Onions have also been shown to have strong antioxidant effects. They are a good source of the flavonoid quercitin, which is valued as a potent antioxidant. It is estimated that a medium-sized onion contains as much as 50 milligrams of quercitin. It is possible to get therapeutic amounts of this antioxidant if you eat onions every day.

Dosage Choose firm, small-necked onions with brittle outer leaves. Avoid dark spotted or sprouting bulbs. To maintain good health, try to eat the equivalent of one half to one cup of chopped onions every day. Raw onions contain higher amounts of the disease-fighting chemicals, but cooked onions are also healthful.

What are the Side Effects? Aside from getting burning, watering eyes when you chop them, some people experience digestive upset and heartburn from onions. If you have asthma, be wary of pickled onions, which may contain sulfites that can trigger asthma attacks. Another side effect is onion breath. Eating a sprig of parsley with a meal can help prevent bad breath, which is associated with eating onions.

  • Asthma: Onions have been traditionally used for the treatment of asthma. Animal studies have shown that phytochemicals within onions, such as thiosulfinates and cepaenes, inhibit inflammatory compounds associated with inducing asthma. Nutrition-oriented doctors commonly prescribe high dosages of supplemental quercitin (1500-3000 mg) to help prevent asthma. Onion is a natural source of quercitin.
  • Cancer: A French study of 345 women diagnosed with primary breast cancer found that cancer risk was shown to decrease as consumption of fiber, garlic, and onions increased. A study looked at the relationship between allium vegetable intake (including onion) and cancer of the esophagus and stomach in Yangzhong city, which is one of the highest-risk areas for these cancers in Jiangsu province, China. Researchers of this study suggested that allium vegetables, like raw vegetables, may have an important protecting effect against not only stomach cancer but also esophageal cancer. Quercitin is showing to protect against colon cancer is animal studies. It makes sense to me that foods such as onions are important for the prevention of cancer.
  • Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure: Clinical studies have found that onions decrease cholesterol and trigylceride levels, as well as lower blood pressure. If you have these conditions then incorporate onions into your diet on a long-term basis. One medium onion a day - raw or cooked - can be helpful. You can't expect immediate improvements, of course, but over time, the ingredients in onions give you cumulative benefits.
  • Diabetes: Animal studies have shown that onion reduces elevated blood sugar levels. Along with garlic, onions are an excellent food for people with this condition to consume on a regular basis.
  • Immunity: Onion is helpful in protecting against bacterial, fungal, and worm infections. It is excellent to include in a soup or broth for sore throats and upper respiratory tract infections.

Excerpted with permission from Dr. Mark Stengler's newest book, The Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know .

Dr. Mark Strengler

Mark Stengler, ND is a naturopathic doctor, author, and lecturer. Canadian born and raised, he is an associate professor for the National College of Naturopathic Medicine. He practices at La Jolla Whole Health Medical Clinic in California and serves on the subcommittee for the Yale University Complementary Medicine Outcomes Research Project. His website is

This article has appeared in, and is supplied courtesy of  VISTA Magazine

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