Monday Pharmaceutical Mystery: August 10

Is there any scientific evidence that sliced onions help rid a home of influenza and other viruses?

The pharmacy store where you work is located inside a grocery store. You notice a young woman waiting in line with a basket full of onions, about 20 pounds.

As you ring her up at the cash register you ask her if she has any questions about the medications. She replies, “No, these medications are for my 80-year-old grandmother. Do you have any questions for me?”

You reply, “Well if you don’t mind, I do have a silly question for you.” She is happy to answer your question, and you ask about the onions, and why she is buying so many.

She replies that they are also for her grandmother. Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVIS-19) pandemic started, she has been cooking with onions every day. She makes French onion soup, Chicken noodle soup, and anything else that involves onions. She says that her grandmother was raised by her grandmother who was a native North American herbalist from Canada, and used very ancient customs.

The young woman said when anyone in the house gets sick with influenza or flu-like symptoms, her grandmother disinfects the air with sliced onions so that the other people in the house do not get sick as well. She slices the onions, and puts them around the bed of the sick person.

Mystery: Is there any scientific evidence to this custom?

Solution: It is a well-known fact that viruses such as COVID-19 can linger in the air. Face masks are an attempt to control the spread of airborne viruses, but there are no guarantees.

Quercetin, a flavonoid, is found in onions to have antiviral properties.1 Also, onions are known for releasing gasses (which make your eyes water when slicing them), and they have been studied for the purpose of disinfecting airborne pathogens.2

REFERENCES

  • Wu W, Li R, Li X, et al. Quercetin as an Antiviral Agent Inhibits Influenza A Virus (IAV) Entry. Viruses. 2015;8(1):6. Published 2015 Dec 25. doi:10.3390/v8010006
  • Eun Ha Chang , Yeoung Seuk Bae , Il Sheob Shin, Hyun Jin Choi, Ji Hyun Lee, Ji Weon Choi. Microbial Decontamination of Onion by Corona Discharge Air Plasma during Cold Storage. Journal of Food Quality: Nonthermal Plasma for Food Quality and Safety [online] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jfq/2018/3481806/#introduction Published November 18, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2020.