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Pungent Onions Make Potent Cancer Fighters

The Stronger the Onion, the Better It May Be for You

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 22, 2004 -- Pungent onions may make you cry, but they may also help protect you against cancer, according to a new study.

Researchers found strongly flavored onion varieties, such as New York Bold, Western Yellow, and shallots have the highest total antioxidant activity, which may enhance their ability to fight off cancer-causing cell damage.

Antioxidants, such as the phenolics and flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables, have been heralded as potential cancer fighters due to their ability to destroy free radicals that can damage cells and increase the risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

"No one knows yet how many daily servings of onions you'd have to eat to maximize protection against cancer, but our study suggests that people who are more health conscious might want to go with the stronger onions rather than the mild ones," says researcher Rui Hai Liu, MD, PhD, of Cornell University, in a news release.

Stronger Onions Offer Stronger Cancer Protection

In the study, researchers analyzed fresh, uncooked samples of 10 common onion varieties and shallots for their total antioxidant content and activity, as well as their ability to fight cancer growth in human cells.

Researchers found shallots had the greatest antioxidant content and activity, followed by Western Yellow, New York Bold, and Northern Red. Although shallots resemble onions, they are actually a different species, but they were included in the analysis.

These same pungent onion varieties and shallots were also the most potent inhibitors of human cancer cells.

Milder onion varieties, such as the Vidalia, had among the lowest antioxidant content and activity.

The results appear in the Nov. 3 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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SOURCES: Yang, J. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry; Nov. 3, 2004. News release, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
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