Monday, June 6, 2016

Believing in Onions!

Here’s one that’s been going around the Internet for a number of years and has recently been resurrected on Facebook, the one place you can rely on for completely accurate scientific and medical advice.  (Not!)

The medical guidance is that putting an onion in the room of a sick person will absorb the illness leading to a complete cure in an unbelievably short time.  The truth in this statement is totally contained in the one word “unbelievably.”  Onions are said to so easily absorb bacteria that it’s not safe to store a partially cut up onion in your refrigerator for fear it will later infect you and your family with the gobs of germs it has collected from the air.

If you or someone in the family has the flu, place an onion sliced in half in a bowl in their room and not only will it cure the patient, it will also prevent the flu from spreading to others in the family.  Supposedly cutting it in half exposes more onion to the air.  But if that’s the case, why not dice it to expose so much more surface area?  Apparently no one asked that question, so the explanation stops at halves of an onion.

But it gets even better.  Sleeping with onions in your socks, or from another source, rubbing them on your feet and then wrapping plastic around them and your feet, and tying the whole package in place with white socks, helps alleviate the flu.  (I wonder why the socks have to be white – apparently another question no one has asked.)  There is probably some scientific reason for the color of the socks.  (I imagine a comedy routine about two people trying get intimate in bed feeling inhibited by the bags of onions each has tied to the feet.)

But people who get their medical advice from a site called probably don’t get too worked up about real science.  They are satisfied with the fact that this cure has been used for thousands of years and that the ancient practice of Ayurveda has some good things to say about onions.

Speaking for real science, this article from McGill University Office of Science & Society, and subtitled Separating Sense from Nonsense, makes it clear that onions are not especially prone to bacterial contamination.  “Onions feature a variety of sulphur compounds that have antibacterial activity.  (Of course that doesn’t mean they can in any way protect against the flu which is a viral disease.)”  They don’t attract or absorb bacteria from the air, although they may absorb bacteria from a contaminated cutting board in the kitchen that was improperly cleaned.

There is some good news and some bad news here.  First, your leftover half onions should be perfectly safe in the refrigerator and better kept there than in the bedroom.

Second, there is hope for the problem of over-prescription of antibiotics that leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that leads to the emergence of super bugs and 23,000 deaths per year, which I referred to in the Epidemics posting of May 27, 2016.  Patients who insist on antibiotics to fight viral diseases like flu and the common cold can be prescribed an onion instead.  Their misunderstanding of medicine is obvious from the fact that they don’t distinguish between a bacterial and a viral infection and think antibiotics are the cure.  This sets them up perfectly to accept an onion as a valid cure for their cold and flu symptoms.  Problem solved!

The bad news, of course, is that these same people who apparently slept through science class and are so weak in critical thinking that they readily accept this kind of advice at face value from dubious Internet sources without doing any research on their own, also vote.  And their vote counts exactly the same as yours.

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