Putting a raw onion inside a sock and sleeping with it overnight is a remedy that some people believe can treat a cold or the flu. But is there any scientific evidence to suggest it works?
According to the National Onion Association, the claim that raw onion can treat the flu is a theory that dates back to the 1500s. In recent years, many articles online have claimed that this folk remedy is effective.
Here we explore the origins of the onion sock home remedy and whether there is any evidence to support its effectiveness. The article also considers the health benefits of onions and other treatments available for cold and flu.
The notion of “noxious air” developed before scientists understood the germ theory of disease. Today, the role of germs in disease is no longer a theory and is backed up by scientific evidence.
Before scientists identified germs as being responsible for illness, people believed that raw onions could purify the air in the room. When placed against the skin of the foot and kept in a sock, people thought that onion could cleanse the blood. People claimed this purification process could cure the common cold or the flu.
Modern articles that support this folklore claim it is the odorous sulfuric compounds in onions that give them their healing properties.
In a similar way to reflexology, this ancient practice focuses on specific points in the foot based on a belief that each point affects the health of a different internal organ.
A 2002 review on the health benefits of onions notes that they are indeed rich in sulfuric compounds. However, this is as far as the evidence to support the onion in sock home remedy goes.
That said, there have not been any scientific studies that have looked at this specifically. Most articles online that recommend onion in a sock as a cure for colds and flu do not cite any scientific evidence.
Any claims of effectiveness are based on anecdotes rather than research.
It is also worth noting that there is little evidence to support reflexology as an effective treatment for illness. This 2011 review concludes that clinical evidence fails to demonstrate that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.
Aromatherapy is also a growing evidence-based practice where stimulation of smell receptors assists healing.
Although raw onions are not proven to cure a cold when put against the soles of the feet, onions do have some health benefits when eaten. They are a low-calorie, high-fiber, high-nutrient food and contain vitamin C. Eating onions may:
- Reduce the risk of cancer: This 2015 review discusses the link between eating Allium vegetables (which include onions) and reduced risk of cancer.
- Support skin and hair health: Onions are high in vitamin C, which supports the production of collagen needed for healthy skin and hair.
- Reduce depression: Onions contain vitamin B9 (folate), which may help support mental health and reduce the risk of depression.
Those considering using the onion in sock home remedy to cure a cold or flu may find one of the following home remedies to be more beneficial:
- Drinking tea with honey and lemon: This can ease a sore throat and researchers have found honey to be an effective cough suppressant.
- Drinking hot water with fresh ginger: This can reduce feelings of nausea associated with the flu.
- Gargling with salt water: This study found that gargling might help prevent upper respiratory tract infections.
- Over-the-counter paracetamol: This can reduce a fever and aches and pains associated with cold and flu.
The onion in sock home remedy has origins in western folklore and is hundreds of years old. It also has links to the Chinese practice of reflexology.
Many people claim that the onion in sock remedy is an effective treatment for a cold or the flu. Despite these claims, there is no scientific evidence to support this. There are no proven health benefits to this remedy, but it is not known to be harmful.
Onions offer a range of health benefits when they are eaten as part of a balanced diet.
If a person is looking for ways to treat their cold or flu at home, there are a variety of remedies that do have proven benefits. It is a good idea to try treatments that are known to be effective before trying home remedies that are less evidence-based.
When considering new treatments for cold and flu, it is always a good idea to speak to a doctor first.