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Onions, Garlic and Leeks Fight Breast Cancer

Fragrant Alliums Top The List of Foods that Inhibit Breast Cancer Cell Growth

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Updated January 02, 2009

Onion Varieties

Onion Varieties

Photo © Pam Stephan
"Shallots are for babies, onions are for men and garlic is for heroes." — Old Folk Saying

Onions and other alliums are part of cooking and culture all around the world. Onion juice may relieve earaches, onion syrup may cure laryngitis and one old folk remedy for hair loss involves rubbing a cut onion against your scalp. Garlic, onions and leeks add a dimension of spice and heat to many dishes, but did you know they also give you several anticancer benefits as well? Learn all about alliums and their health benefits.

Alliums - Beautiful and Powerful
Alliums may bring tears to your eyes, because when you cut in to one, a burst of sulphuric compound is released. In a pan over medium heat with olive oil, though, an onion can be a beautiful thing. Alliums are bulbous plants related to the lily family that have relatively long leaves and flower stalks. These plants include onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives. When cooked and eaten with other foods, alliums help lower your insulin peaks, reducing inflammation, and protect you against cancer. Dr. Richard Béliveau, at the Charles-Bruneau Cancerology Centre in Canada, tested extracts from many foods on cancerous cells in a petri dish. For breast cancer, Dr. Béliveau lists "garlic, leeks and scallions [green onions]" as the top-three foods that inhibit cancer cell growth.

Health Benefits of Onions and Garlic
Onions -- whether they are red, yellow or white -- have antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, anti-allergic and antiviral. They contain high levels of quercetin, a potent flavonoid that may help fight or prevent cancer. An Italian study of weekly use of alliums in diet and rates of cancer found that people who ate between 14 and 22 portions of onions had the lowest rates of breast cancer. Nutrients found in alliums include chromium, sulphides, vitamins B and C, potassium and selenium. Garlic, in addition to its pungent fragrance, has the compound allicin, an antimicrobial agent that prevents the formation of nitrosamine (a carcinogen).

Cooking with Alliums
Asian cuisines make good use of yellow and green onions. Chinese dishes often use both kinds of onions along with meat and other vegetables. Chives may be used on your baked potato as garnish, but they are also often mixed with beef and steamed in dumplings. Indian dishes require onions, ginger and garlic to create the heavenly cloud of fragrance that announces curry. Southern Americans are fond of onions fried in rings or flowers and served plain or with dips. Leeks are an essential ingredient for Vichyssoise, a chilled potato soup. Don't forget to try the crisp, pungent taste of raw onions or shallots on burgers and hot dogs or in sandwiches and salads.

Onions - They Cure What Ails You
Now when you eat onions, remember that they can fight cancer as well as make your ears and throat feel better. If you find that an onion makes your hair grow lush and full where it was previously missing, do let me know! And finally, onions may be the cure for the common cold:
“My own remedy is always to eat, just before I step in to bed, a hot roasted onion, if I have a cold.” -- George Washington

Sources:
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 84, No. 5, 1027-1032, November 2006. Onion and garlic use and human cancer. Carlotta Galeone, Claudio Pelucchi, Fabio Levi, Eva Negri, Silvia Franceschi, Renato Talamini, Attilio Giacosa and Carlo La Vecchia.

National Cancer Institute. Fact Sheet. Garlic and Cancer Prevention: Questions and Answers. Reviewed: 01/22/2008.

Buying Fresh Onions

Good Onions Bad Onions
Clean, dry skins Dirty, moist skins
Well shaped Dented or cut-up
Sealed neck Hole or moisture at neck
Dry leaves (top) Sprouts or green leaves
Firm texture Mushy or soft texture
Consistent color Mottled or moldy color
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