Have an appetite for onions? Your body could be benefitting in ways scientists are just beginning to understand. In the latest study on what may well be a superfood, scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, report in the journal Food Research International that red onions in particular boast an ability to disrupt cancer cell communication and promote a generally poor environment for cancer cells, "which inhibits growth." The team was looking specifically at colon cancer, but they found that the onion cells are just as good at killing breast cancer cells. The trick, reports Huffpost, will be to extract the key ingredient, dose it just right, and use it medicinally.
That key ingredient is quercetin, a flavonoid already known for its cancer-fighting properties. This study finds that onions in general have unusually high levels of quercetin compared to other foods, and that Ontario onions in particular have high levels of the compound compared to onions grown elsewhere. But red onions also boast high levels of anthocyanin, a plant pigment that help make quercetin molecules better scavengers. (Because anthocyanin helps make foods colorful, it makes sense to the researchers that red onions, which are so dark, have the greatest cancer-fighting potential.) It's unclear whether red onions from outside of Ontario will be as effective, but Time reports the researchers think it's likely, and plan to start clinical trials. (Onions also help reduce the risk of heart disease.)