Red onions pack a cancer-fighting punch, study reveals

June 7, 2017, University of Guelph
Cancer cell during cell division. Credit: National Institutes of Health

The next time you walk down the produce aisle of your grocery store, you may want to reach for red onions if you are looking to fight off cancer.

In the first study to examine how effective Ontario-grown onions are at killing cancer , U of G researchers have found that not all onions are created equal.

Engineering professor Suresh Neethirajan and PhD student Abdulmonem Murayyan tested five types grown in Ontario and discovered the Ruby Ring onion variety came out on top.

Onions as a superfood are still not well known. But they contain one of the highest concentrations of quercetin, a type of flavonoid, and Ontario onions boasts particularly high levels of the compound compared to some parts of the world.

The Guelph study revealed that the red onion not only has high levels of quercetin, but also high amounts of anthocyanin, which enriches the scavenging properties of quercetin molecules, said Murayyan, study's lead author.

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

Published recently in Food Research International, the study involved placing in direct contact with quercetin extracted from the five different onion varieties.

"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 unfavourable 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 .

"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 new extraction technique that eliminates the use of chemicals, making the found in onions more suitable for consumption.

Other extraction methods use solvents that can leave a toxic residue which is then ingested in food, said Neethirajan.

"This new method that we tested to be effective only uses super-heated water in a pressurized container," he said. "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."

While we can currently include this superfood in salads and on burgers as a preventative 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 treatment.

Explore further: Dry onion skin has a use

Related Stories

Dry onion skin has a use

July 14, 2011
More than 500,000 tonnes of onion waste are thrown away in the European Union each year. However, scientists say this could have a use as food ingredients. The brown skin and external layers are rich in fibre and flavonoids, ...

Recommended for you

Scientists take step toward new, targeted lung cancer treatment

August 21, 2018
Scientists have identified a key molecular player in a subtype of lung cancer which could lead to a new way to tackle the disease, according to research published in Nature Communications.

Simple test could identify bladder cancer patients who won't respond to immunotherapy

August 21, 2018
Patients who are unlikely to benefit from a commonly used immunotherapy for bladder cancer could be identified by a simple blood test, according to researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS).

New compound advances into Phase 1 trial for pancreatic cancer

August 21, 2018
A compound discovered at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) has advanced into a Phase 1 trial for metastatic pancreatic cancer. Called CEND-1 (scientifically known as iRGD), the compound was exclusively ...

Annual pap test a 'thing of the past?'

August 21, 2018
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has released new recommendations on screening for cervical cancer. These latest recommendations continue the trend of decreasing participant burden by lengthening ...

'Liquid biopsy' predicts lymphoma therapy success within days, study finds

August 20, 2018
A blood test can predict which patients with a type of cancer called diffuse large B cell lymphoma are likely to respond positively to initial therapy and which are likely to need more aggressive treatment, according to a ...

Study shows how to make (and destroy) a metastatic cancer cell

August 20, 2018
Many cancers become especially dangerous only when they metastasize from their site of origin to faraway tissues such as lung, brain or bone. Now, a University of Colorado Cancer Center study published today in the Proceedings ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.