Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Onions in your socks

A point I've made before is that if you are trying to convince people about some oddball belief you may subscribe to, your credibility is not helped if you then append to it something even weirder.  For example, if you make a living cleaning up people's auras by waving quartz crystals around their head, I'm not going to be more likely to believe you if you tell me that you had once accomplished the same thing using a Brillo pad.

Unfortunately, this is not advice that homeopath Diane Elms has taken to heart.  Elms is a Canadian homeopath and "specialist in drugless cancer care" who won "Iridologist of the Year" in 2008.  (Iridology, if you've not heard of it, is right up there with homeopathy in the "crazy alt-med" department; it is the contention that you can diagnose any disease by looking at the irises of a patient's eyes.  Here's what the Skeptic's Dictionary has to say about it.)

Elms writes a column called "Healthy Habits" for the Sachem and Glanbrook (Ontario) Gazette, and this week she had a doozy.  The title, "The Use of Onions as a Healthy Habit," doesn't raise any immediate red flags, especially with me.  I grew up in southern Louisiana, where onions are one of the Four Major Food Groups.  (The other three are pepper, garlic, and seafood.)  But it turns out that Elms isn't just talking about eating onions, although she does recommend that, too.

She wants you to put onions in your socks.

I wish I was making this up.  Apparently she is under the impression that onions have the ability to "draw out toxins."  Here's a direct quote:
Recently, one of my patients shared how when she was nine years old and was very sick, the homeopath told her parents to put onions in her socks to draw the fever to the feet. I sat up and listened. I asked her to share more about the onions since I myself have never had the opportunity to use them as of yet.  She explained that she had a high fever. The medical doctor said she contracted pneumonia.  At the time, her family lived in Germany and couldn’t afford to do the medical treatment, so they called the homeopath. The homeopathic doctor gave her a homeopathic remedy and told her parents to put onions in her socks. Her parents were to change her socks every 12 hours and put new onions in them each time. In three days, her fever broke, and she came out of her coma. The homeopath told her parents to burn the onions. They were not to bury them but to burn them because they would be so full of toxins.
Oh, for sure!  I will definitely tell this to my AP Biology students, next time we are studying human physiology and the immune system.  I will, however, add one additional thing, which is:

BA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA *falls off chair*

So, homeopathy isn't enough?  It's not sufficiently loony to give a desperately ill person a pill that has nothing in it, you are also going to stuff onions down her socks to "draw the fever to her feet?"  What next?  Are you going to smear CheezWhiz in her hair to magically protect her head from evil spirits?

But Elms isn't done:
Back in flu season, I was speaking at a wellness expo and talked about the benefits of onions. You can eat onions for their anti-toxic benefits as well as their antioxidant, cholesterol lowering, atherosclerosis, blood thinning, asthma and anti-cancer properties. You can also cut an onion in half and place it beside a person who is sick. The onion will draw the toxins from the person into the onion. I know it sounds odd. A few people in the audience had a hard time digesting the new information about onions.
Yes, Ms. Elms, I'll just bet they did.

What gets me here is the whole medieval aspect of this -- because what is this but the "invoking magical plants" thing that they did back in the 14th century, with new terminology?  Because she can throw out words like "antioxidant" she sounds like she knows what she's talking about, and I bet there are lots of folks who read this column and now are walking around with their feet smelling even worse than usual.

I mean, really.  Think about it from an evolutionary perspective.  Here we mammals have evolved an excretory system -- liver and kidneys, especially -- that is excellent at removing toxins from our blood.  How on earth could we have evolved a system that only works if there are onions nearby?

"Hey, Ogg," says one proto-hominid on the African savanna to another, "you no look so good.  Maybe you should stick onion in your socks, yeah?"

"But Thag," Ogg responds, "we live on African savanna.  No onions here.  Besides, you and me both naked.  What are 'socks?'"

"I don't know," Thag says.  "I figured you did.  I guess you screwed, then."

*Ogg dies*

Anyhow, that's our crazy idea of the day.  My recommendation: eat all the onions you want.  They're tasty, although it is true that if you eat too much of them, your sweat starts to smell like onions.  Be that as it may, they're a nice addition to dinner, even if they don't "draw out toxins" any more than garlic repels vampires.


  1. The difficulty with proving iridology as a science is that there are no studies being accomplished in North America, yet, there are several studies from other countries that show great reliability of iridology as valid diagnostic tool.

    For example, three recent studies showing good success in detecting diabetes:

    Journal Article: Learning to predict diabetes from iris image analysis:
    Early Detection on the Condition of Pancreas Organ as the Cause of Diabetes Mellitus by Real Time Iris Image Processing

    Journal Article: Early Detection on the Condition of Pancreas Organ as the Cause of Diabetes Mellitus by Real Time Iris Image Processing:
    Early Detection on the Condition of Pancreas Organ as the Cause of Diabetes Mellitus by Real Time Iris Image Processing

    Journal Article: Abnormal condition detection of pancreatic Beta-cells as the cause of Diabetes Mellitus based on iris image:
    Abnormal condition detection of pancreatic Beta-cells as the cause of Diabetes Mellitus based on iris image

    And some amazing studies accomplished in Russia:

  2. DUDE! (said tongue in check) I tried onions in my socks while I slept. I'm NOT into homeopathy , it sounded so insane that I had to try it, yes, that's how I roll. I wasn't sick or anything, but let me tell you this ... MY FEET FELT AMAZING!

    It made them tingle and sort of pulsate, it was like getting en electric foot massage while I was drifting off. I have no idea what else it does, but I am now addicted to this! Please, be a skeptic but it never hurts to TRY things for fun!

  3. I was told to sleep with onions in my socks as I have been feeling very poorly and my daughter has been looking for something to take toxins out of your system and this is what came up.I filled my socks with sliced red onion and then put two small plastic bags over the socks to keep the odour in.I was absoloutely amazed at the lovely relaxing tingling sensation all over my feet, better than a massage.I am now up and feel quite refreshed and think this will be a regular routine for me I have heart disease and chronic fybromyalgia and every little good feeling combats the awful. you should try it! highly recommended indeed!

  4. If we put a halves of Onion slices on a the cancer area (like beast, skin or liver cancer) and wrap it overnight with a towel to ensure onion essense soaks into the skin..will that help healing the cancer ? or no effect.?

  5. I'm 3 years too late to this post, but many remedies come from plants that are scientifically recognized and proven. So if you're argument is that plants aren't magical, then thats just plain wrong. Plants have very powerful effects they can definitely, heal, harm or even kill people.
    Most western medicine is popular because of capitalism. If this onion remedy did work, there's just probably not enough money in it to advertise it and study it effectively.
    Either way, find a scientific way to disprove it before sounding like a narrow minded ass.

  6. No. Plants are NOT magical. Science is not magical. Any powerful effects that anything has on the body is not magical.

    As for disproving that onions in socks can detoxify one's body, that's absurd. You may as well come up with any ridiculous claim, like teacups in orbit around Mars cause tornadoes, and ask me to disprove it.

    Here's a tip for make the claim, it's up to you to support it with evidence or the claim is moot. This nonsense is contrary to everything we know about physiology, chemistry, and science in general. Make your case and a Nobel surely awaits.

  7. I tried this. I am very open to holistic health remedies and not using drugs for every little ache. I can say with 100% positivity, this works! I feel amazing today and the biggest improvement is my sinus and breathing. Can't even remember the last time I could breathe without congestion! Try it before you throw it under the bus.

  8. Definitely Homeopathy treatment believes in onion and this principal works on the concept of "The Law Of Similars." Just like a substance which can cause symptoms in a healthy person can, in homeopathy's non toxic micro doses, stimulate cure in others suffering with similar symptoms regardless of the cause.