Q. I recently read online that if you cut an unpeeled onion in half and put it in an open jar in the bedroom of a sick person, the onion will absorb the germs and speed recovery. Dishes of onions around the house are said to prevent the flu. Is this true or just a bunch of nonsense?
My daughter and her two children live with us and we watch two other grandchildren while their parents work. All the kids, ages 5 and under, have been sick with bronchitis and bad coughs that will not go away. Would putting cut-up onions around the house help or just stink up my house?
A. This time of year the onion story circulates on the web. It is hooey. Onions cannot attract the viruses that cause colds and flu and leaving an onion in a room will just make it smell.
This urban legend may have its roots in a folk remedy that uses onions to make cough syrup. Grandmothers used to chop onions finely and simmer them with a small amount of sweetener for a few hours. The resulting syrup was administered as cough medicine. We have many other natural approaches in our Guide to Colds and the Flu including advice on helping kids kick a cough.
Perhaps a little extra vitamin D will help protect your grandchildren. New data suggest that supplemental vitamin D (4,000 IU daily for adults) can cut the number of infections and the amount of antibiotic needed (BMJ Open, Dec. 13, 2012). Studies in schoolchildren also demonstrate that vitamin D (300 IU/day; 1200 IU/day) can help reduce respiratory infections (Pediatrics, Sept. 2012; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May, 2010).