Should You Drink Onion Water When You Have a Cold or the Flu? Experts Weigh In

Should You Drink Onion Water When You Have a Cold or the Flu? Experts Weigh In

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When you have a respiratory virus like the cold or flu, it’s understandable to want to do all you can to feel better ASAP, if not sooner. Well, there’s a hack making the rounds on TikTok that claims to do just that—but it’s a little questionable.

Some TikTokers are claiming that onion water is a natural cold and flu remedy. One particularly popular video is from @Poshmamma2, who breaks down exactly how to make onion water.

Fellow TikTok user @cayleyx0 shared that she made and drank onion water for two days in a row when she had a respiratory virus. “Night and day difference,” she said. “It honestly worked so well.”

Considering the onion water hack to feel better? Given TikTok’s reputation for spreading misinformation, it’s understandable to want to dig a little deeper first. Here’s what you need to know.

Can onion water help with symptoms of colds and the flu?

Experts generally agree that the claims that drinking onion water will wipe out your cold and flu symptoms don’t really have any scientific basis. However, onions do have some properties that would, in theory, help.

“Onions are packed with nutrients that include powerful antioxidants, such as vitamin C and quercetin, B vitamins, and potassium,” says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet.

Research on quercetin “has shown it may help our body reduce inflammation, inhibit growth of bacteria, and support immune health,” Gans explains. And, she adds, “onions have also been associated with a decrease in cholesterol and blood pressure.”

Gans also says there’s “limited conclusive scientific studies that support that onion water will help with a cough or congestion.”

It’s a stretch to say that drinking onion water will magically make you feel better, says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. The best thing onion water has going for it, he says, is that it will help hydrate you—a nice perk when you’re feeling under the weather.

“It gives you liquid—that’s the major ingredient,” he says. “Anything you can do to keep up your fluid intake will help if you have a cold.” Drinking plenty of liquids when you’re sick will help keep your mucus membranes moist and keep mucus flowing, lowering the odds you’ll feel overly congested, he says.

But “you would get more benefit from just eating an onion,” says Jessica Cording, R.D., a nutritionist and author of The Little Book of Game Changers, noting that you’ll get more fiber and antioxidants from going this route. Still, she points out, there’s no data that says eating an onion vs. drinking onion water will help rid you of your cold and flu symptoms.

Dr. Schaffner stresses that there’s nothing about adding onions to your water that will help with your cold and flu symptoms, from a medical perspective. Meaning, you’d get the same effect if you drank regular water—and it would probably taste better.

What is onion water?

At a basic level, onion water is exactly what it sounds like: onions in water. Many people, like @Poshmamma2, suggest making onion water by chopping up red or yellow onions. “Do not use white,” she cautions, although she doesn’t explain why. “The smaller you cut it, the more potent the onion water will be,” @Poshmamma2 adds.

The chopped onions are then layered into a glass that’s filled with water. The glass is covered and left to sit overnight, with the goal of letting it steep for 10 to 12 hours. At that point, you can drink it. (Worth noting: Some people will make onion water by boiling the onions in water, but simply letting it steep seems to be the most common method.)

Is it safe to drink onion water?

In general, there’s really no harm in trying this, Cording says. After all, it’s almost like having onion soup, without all the other ingredients. “I don’t think it’s going to harm anybody necessarily, unless you're allergic to onion,” Cording says.

Keep in mind, though, that onions are a very acidic food. “If you are prone to heartburn, there is some risk to experiencing that or stomach discomfort,” Cording says. “Some people also don’t digest onions very well. That can lead to gas, bloating, and general discomfort.”

How to feel better if you have a cold or the flu

If you suspect that you have the flu, talk to your doctor about getting tested. If you’re positive, you may be eligible to take Tamiflu, which can help lower the odds you’ll develop serious complications of the flu and may even shorten the course of your illness.

“The most important thing is to keep up your fluids,” Dr. Schaffner says. He suggests focusing more on water, fruit juice, and broths, while minimizing caffeinated beverages and alcohol, since those can dehydrate you. Gans also recommends having “soothing warm beverages,” like tea with honey or chicken or vegetable broth.

If you have a fever and feel achy, Dr. Schaffner says taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may help you to feel better. “If you want to try treating it on the more natural side, take a nice, warm shower in the morning,” Dr. Schaffner says. “The warm moisture really gets up into your nose and throat and provides some relief.”

As for drinking onion water…it’s ultimately up to you—and your tastebuds—if you want to go that route.

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