Raw Onions in Socks: Miracle Cure or Complete Myth?
When it comes to folk remedies, some have been found to be surprisingly effective. Others are a bit more dubious. For example, eating papaya may indeed aid digestion, 1 sipping on hot tea with honey may help soothe a sore throat, 2 and aloe vera deserves its reputation as a go-to for burns. 3 On the other hand, there’s no evidence that copper bracelets ease arthritis pain 4 or that rubbing raw potato on the skin can remove dark spots. What about placing onions in your socks?
Does placing onions in your socks as you sleep really remove toxins and help you recover faster from illness?
Where Did the Idea for Onions in Socks Come From?
People have used this old folk remedy to battle colds and the flu for generations. 5 The premise is that you slice a red or white onion into rounds. Then place a round on the bottom of each foot and cover your feet with a pair of socks to hold the onion in place. Next, go to sleep, and in the morning, you’ll wake up feeling fine.
Claimed benefits of adding onions to your socks include cleaning the blood, drawing out toxins, fighting off fevers, cold, and the flu, and purifying the air around you. It’s also claimed to fight foot odor. (Is this because the onion smell covers any other odors?)
As far back as the 1500s, people placed cut-up onions throughout the home to protect against the bubonic plague. This was because it was believed that infections were spread by poisonous air. Because of the sulfuric compounds found in the onions, it was believed these odorous vegetables could fight bacteria and viruses while purifying or detoxing the air and the blood. 6
Another theory that gives rise to the use of onions comes from Chinese medicine. Placing an onion slice on the feet has been suggested to help open meridians found on the bottom of the feet to draw out toxins and sickness from the body. Just make sure to avoid eating the onions after they’ve been on the feet, as they’re thought to be contaminated with those toxins. (Not that many people would be tempted to eat foot onions.)
Of course, we now understand (since the 1800s) that infections arise from germs. So, while you may find grandparents, as well as articles and social media posts extolling the virtues of onions in socks, there is no scientific evidence that it does, well, anything.
Rather than research, claims rely on anecdotes. Yet, even the theory behind the idea is pretty questionable. Onions, or any other food, for that matter, don’t absorb germs or toxins from the feet or from the air around you.
There’s always something to learn, and sometimes what we discover can be surprising. So, just because something hasn’t been studied doesn’t always mean it won’t help. And sometimes, just believing something will work is enough. The placebo effect (i.e., your belief in the treatment, rather than the treatment itself) can be very powerful. Plus, while putting onions in your socks may be a bit uncomfortable as you sleep, it likely won’t do any harm.
A Better Use of Onions
For better results, rather than sticking onions in socks, get them on your plate instead. Raw as well as cooked onions not only add lots of flavor to recipes but also provide a wide range of nutrients, including dietary flavonoids and vitamin C, two antioxidants that support a healthy, balanced immune system. 7
The immune system, in turn, is designed to attack invading viruses or bacteria from entering the body and then help the body recover after illness. 8
Onions also provide fiber, vitamin B6, and minerals like potassium and manganese. According to research, eating onions and other organosulfur-rich foods like garlic may even help reduce the risk of heart disease. 9
Onions in Your Socks: A Recap
If you or your family have been using onions in your socks for generations and you feel like it’s beneficial, then there’s nothing stopping you. There’s no harm from the practice, but there’s also likely no real benefit (other than a placebo effect).
To get the most from onions, instead try including them as part of a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet.
Finally, the best way to get over a cold or the flu quickly is to never get it in the first place. To help prevent infection, make sure you wash your hands well throughout the day (especially when you’re out and about), avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears, get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, avoid sick people, consider staying up to date on vaccinations, nourish your body with healthy whole foods, and exercise regularly.
A healthy lifestyle may not prevent every infection, but it definitely can help put the odds in your favor.