Flu / Cold / SARS Infectious Diseases / Bacteria / Viruses

Does an onion in the sock work for a cold?

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.

Fast facts about onion in the sock for cold and flu:

  • The remedy dates back to the time of the plague when people believed disease spread through “noxious air.”
  • It is also linked to the Chinese medicinal practice of reflexology.
  • There is no scientific evidence to support the claim.

What are the origins of the remedy?

woman with cold laying in bed blowing her nose
The belief that raw onion can treat flu is believed to date from the 1500s.

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.


What the science says

one whole red onion and one sliced in half
Although onions do have some health benefits when eaten, there have not been any scientific studies to back the onion in sock remedy.

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.

Health benefits of onions

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.


Treating cold and flu

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:

honey lemon and fresh ginger
Including honey and lemon or fresh ginger in drinks may ease cold and flu symptoms.
  • 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.

Takeaway

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.

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