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What are the benefits of eating allium vegetables?

Joel H. Fuhrman, MD
Family Medicine
Epidemiological studies have found that increased consumption of allium vegetables (onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives, and scallions) is associated with lower risk of cancer at all common sites, and this is thought to be due to their organosulfur compounds, which are released when the vegetables are chopped, crushed, or chewed. Similar to the green cruciferous family, their cell wall houses an enzyme called alliinase that is responsible for making that sulfuric acid smell that can make you cry. But at the same time that the chemical reaction is occurring on your kitchen counter, those immune-building sulfide compounds are forming. These compounds prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens, and they also have angiogenesis inhibiting effects that halt cancer cell growth by preventing tumors from obtaining a blood supply.

Research suggests that these organosulfur compounds in the onion family members also have anti-inflammatory actions that protect against osteoarthritis and ward off infections. When we eat the organosulfur compounds and glycoproteins in onions they work together with other micronutrients to improve immune function and to prevent disease. In fact, when onion intake was scrutinized in a case-controlled multi-country study, the highest consumers of onions had less than half as many cancers compared to people who rarely consumed onions.
  • 56% reduction of colon cancer
  • 73% reduction of ovarian cancer
  • 88% reduction of esophageal cancer
  • 71% reduction of prostate cancer
  • 50% reduction in stomach cancer
In this study the highest consumers were eating seven or more 80-gram portions per week; the lowest consumers ate less than one serving per week. This is about 1/2 cup of chopped onions per day.
Super Immunity: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body's Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free

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Super Immunity: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body's Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free

In Super Immunity, world-renowned health expert and New York Times bestselling author of Eat to Live Dr. Joel Fuhrman offers a nutritional guide to help you live longer, stronger, and disease...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.