Red onions have cancer-fighting properties, finds new study

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A recently published study by researchers at the University of Guelph, Ontario province in Canada, has found that red onions are good at fighting cancer.

The university research team wanted to examine how effective onions grown in Ontario are at killing cancer cells. What they found was that after testing five onion types, the Ruby Ring onion variety was found to be the most effective.

Not many know that onions are superfood category. They contain one of the highest concentrations of quercetin, a type of flavonoid. Compared to onions grown elsewhere in the globe, Ontario onions have particularly high levels of the compound.

The Guelph study was conducted by Engineering professor Suresh Neethirajan and PhD student Abdulmonem Murayyan and published recently in Food Research International.

The study involved placing colon cancer cells in direct contact with quercetin extracted from the five onion varieties.

The results

According to Murayyan, the study’s lead author, the results brought to light the fact that red onion also contains high amounts of anthocyanin, which enriches the scavenging properties of quercetin molecules.

“Anthocyanin is instrumental in providing color to fruits and vegetables, so it makes sense that the red onions, which are darkest in color, would have the most cancer-fighting power.”

“We found onions are excellent at killing cancer cells,” said Murayyan. “Onions activate pathways that encourage cancer cells to undergo cell death. They promote an unfavorable environment for cancer cells and they disrupt communication between cancer cells, which inhibits growth.”

The researchers have also recently determined onions are effective at killing breast cancer cells.

“The next step will be to test the vegetable’s cancer-fighting powers in human trials,” said Murayyan.

These findings follow a recent study by the researchers on a new extraction technique that only uses super-heated water in a pressurized container. This method eliminates the use of chemicals, making the quercetin found in onions more suitable for consumption.

“Developing a chemical-free extraction method is important because it means we can use onion’s cancer-fighting properties in nutraceuticals and in pill form,” said Prof. Neethirajan.

While consumers are already encouraged to add this superfood to their salads and burgers as a preventive measure, the researchers expect onion extract will eventually be added to food products such as juice or baked goods and be sold in pill form as a type of natural cancer treatment.