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Raw Onions on Feet to Cure Illness? Be Skeptical!

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Raw ONION on bottom of the feet to take away illness
Via Facebook

Viral message claims placing slices of raw onion on the bottoms of one's feet and securing them with a pair of socks will "absorb toxins" and "take away illness" overnight.

Description: Folk remedy / Old wives' tale
Circulating since: Jan. 2014 (this version)
Status: FALSE (see details below)

Full text example:
As shared on Facebook, Jan. 17, 2014:

Raw ONION on bottom of the feet to take away illness.

During the night, I started feeling good. I mean really good! I felt tingly, like my blood was being cleansed (it was). It was so cool! My bedroom smells like a casserole, but it was totally worth it!

***Here is the deal:::

So last night Evan (11) was keeping everyone awake with his cough. I got up, went to the kitchen and sliced a purple, make me cry onion, at 3am. I got some snug socks and put it on the bottom of his feet. To boost my own immunity, I decided to try this too. During the rest of the night, I started feeling good. I mean really good! I felt tingly, like my blood was being cleansed. It was so cool!

This works in 2 ways.

1.) Onions are known to absorb toxins. In fact, during the days of the Plague in England, folks would keep chopped onions around to absorb toxins and clean the air. This helped protect them, against getting the plague.

NEVER SAVE AN ONION. It will absorb all the toxins in the air of your refrigerator. Eat that and you eat the toxins. Instead: Chop your left over onion, put it on a plate and keep it in your kitchen as a natural air purifier. I do this all the time! If someone is ill, place a chopped onion on the night stand, next to the bed. They'll be better in the morning. I placed the remaining onion, next to Evan last night.

Onions are toxin absorbers. Thus why they are great internal mops for the body. Eat plenty of onions!

2.) The onion and garlic families are anti-microbial and anti-bacterial. Placing them on the bottom of the foot gives them access to your internal organs through meridians in your body. The onion can be directly delivered. Transdermal delivery (on the skin) is one of the best delivery mechanisms, as it will bypass the stomach acids and go directly into the blood. The bottom of the feet and the forearm are great places to put high powered foods and essential oils into the body. Sliced garlic on the bottom of the feet will work nicely too.

Evan woke up cough free and hopped on the bus this morning.

Happy kid. Happy mom.

Analysis: Strapping raw onions to your feet probably won't do you any harm as long as it isn't used as a substitute for proper medical care, but there's no scientific reason to suppose it will cure what's ailing you, either.

The claim that onions are "toxin absorbers" is pseudo-scientific twaddle, as is the related claim that you should never save a leftover onion because "it will absorb all the toxins in the air of your refrigerator." This is a revised version of an older rumor to the effect that "onions are a huge magnet for bacteria," therefore, supposedly, "it's not even safe if you put it in a zip-lock bag."

That's just plain false, says Joe Schwarcz of McGill University's Office for Science and Society. "The fact is that onions are not especially prone to bacterial contamination," he writes. "In fact, quite the opposite." According to Schwarcz it's no more dangerous to eat cut onions stored properly in a refrigerator than it is to eat any other raw vegetable stored for an equal length of time.

This is reaffirmed by Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University. "No, onions do not absorb bacteria," MacDonald says. "The idea that a vegetable would attract and suck into itself bacteria from the air is not even logical. The onion may turn black because it would eventually rot from both cell breakdown events and bacterial contamination if you left it out, not because it absorbs germs."

And not because it absorbs so-called "toxins," either. I've not found a single scientific source stating that onions are especially prone to absorbing "toxins" of any kind, much less those specifically related to disease.

A bit of history

It's true that 500 years ago it was believed that strewing onions around the home protected against the plague, but there are two important caveats to bear in mind: one, that belief was based on an ignorance of what actually causes infectious disease and how it's spread, and two, the theory behind it wasn't that onions absorb germs or "toxins," but rather that onions absorb noxious odors (miasma), which were thought at the time to be the main vehicle of contagion.

The miasma theory began to lose steam as medical science progressed in the latter half of the 19th century, but we still find sources like The People's Physician, a home medical manual published in 1860, stating that raw onions "possess the property of imbibing the morbid effluvia, or noxious exhalations from persons diseased." A few sentences later the author makes this now-familiar recommendation:

Persons threatened with or having seated fevers, should have the half of a raw onion bound upon the sole of each foot at bedtime, being permitted to remain until morning, by which time the slices will have drawn, to a great extent, the febrile disorder from the system.

By the 1880s, references to "morbid effluvia" and "noxious exhalations" were giving way to talk of germs and bacteria, but the onion remedy, albeit slightly modernized, still held sway in some quarters, as in this example from the Western Dental Journal, 1887: "Sliced onions in a sick room absorb all the germs and prevent contagion."

Now, more than 125 years later, we read on Facebook that onions cure disease by absorbing "toxins," as if it's a long-established medical fact.

Regardless whether the agent of infection is thought to be miasma, germs, or toxins, what none of these sources provide is a scientific explanation of how the humble onion could be capable of performing such an incredible absorptive feat. As far as I've been able to discover, there isn't one.

See also:

Can Raw Onions in a Room Prevent the Flu?
Viral message claims raw, sliced onions placed around the home will "collect" or "absorb" any flu virus present and protect the household from influenza.

Are Leftover Onions Poisonous?
Viral message claims that uncooked, leftover onions are "poisonous" because they're "a huge magnet for bacteria" and therefore especially prone to spoilage.

Vicks VapoRub on Feet to Relieve Coughing?
Viral message claims coughing in children can be stopped "100% of the time" by applying "Vicks Vapor Rub" to the bottoms of their feet at bedtime.

Sources and further reading:

Last updated 03/12/14

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