The Mighty Onion

Everyday Einstein tackles 5 popular claims about the power and potency of this magical bulb.

Lee Falin, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #2

Amazing Claim #1: Onions Have Antibacterial and Antiseptic Abilities


Science tells us that there is plenty of evidence to support this claim. Studies abound on the antibacterial properties of onion and its bulbous cousin, garlic. In fact, a recent study found that when combined with garlic and lime extracts, onions can help inhibit the growth of certain strains of E. coli which are resistant to conventional antibiotics.

Another study showed that onion powder, when combined with coconut extract, completely eliminated roundworm infection in mice after just 8 days of treatment. (Roundworms are a kind of parasite that mammals often get. If you’ve ever given your dog or cat deworming medicine, roundworms are one of the parasites the medicine is designed to kill.)

Both of these studies are quick to point out that these results don’t necessarily translate directly to human health, and you should of course consult your doctor before you decide to replace all of your antibiotics with onion powder and coconut extract.

Amazing Claims #2 and #3: Raw Onions Suck Disease Out of People and the Air

Since our email started out on such solid ground, I had high hopes for this claim of germ-sucking power. Unfortunately, while onion vapors have been shown to have some limited antimicrobial effects, placing an onion next to an infected person won’t cause bacteria to swarm out of them towards the onion.

Assuming that the bacteria wanted to become one with onion, the trouble is that while bacteria have some cool ways of getting around, spontaneous flying isn’t one of them. You could of course sneeze them onto the onion, but they can’t get over there on their own.

Ah, but what about breathing in those onion vapors? The study on onion vapor also noted that the effects of the vapor are limited by both time and temperature. After a few hours the onion vapors lose potency, even in the close confines of a petri dish. Their effect on someone sitting across the room would be pretty close to zero.


Please note that archive episodes of this podcast may include references to Everyday Einstein. Rights of Albert Einstein are used with permission of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Represented exclusively by Greenlight.

About the Author

Lee Falin, PhD

Dr. Lee Falin earned a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois, then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology from Virginia Tech.