Onions & Garlic May Reduce Breast Cancer Risk, New Study Finds

mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor By Ray Bass, NASM-CPT
mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor

Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.

Image by Jirus Malawong / iStock

There are two kinds of people in this world: People who love onions and garlic, and people who don't. Well, if you're in the group that loves them (myself included), we have yet another reason to keep eating them—and if you hate them, here's a reason to reconsider: They may decrease your risk of developing breast cancer. Read it and rejoice. 

A new study conducted by the University at Buffalo and the University of Puerto Rico found that among Puerto Rican women, garlic and onion intake, as well as sofrito (a mix of garlic, onions, peppers, and tomatoes cooked in olive oil that's used as a base for many Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Latin American dishes), was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.  

The study was conducted over the course of six years (2008 to 2014) and included 314 women with breast cancer and 346 control participants. The study was inspired by the already existing body of research and evidence that underscores the cancer-preventing properties of onions and garlic

Why Puerto Rico? Because they eat a lot of garlic and onions—much more than European or U.S. populations. Why garlic and onions? Well, a few reasons. 

"Onions and garlic are rich in flavanols and organosulfur compounds," says lead study author Gauri Desai. In other words, they're incredibly healthy foods full of beneficial compounds, like S-allylcysteine, diallyl sulfide, diallyl disulfide, and alk(en)yl cysteine sulphoxides. 

"These compounds show anticarcinogenic properties in humans, as well as in experimental animal studies," said Lina Mu, an associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University at Buffalo. 

This may not come as a complete shock to you, given what we know about garlic and onions (though we assume you didn't know the compound names). Garlic has been shown to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, and onions, with their fiber and antioxidant content, have also been shown to lower cancer risk.

A word of caution for those now running to the market to buy onions and garlic: Some people, particularly those with GI issues like IBS or SIBO, have trouble digesting garlic and onions—which can result in bloating, constipation, and in severe cases, acid reflux. Diets like the low FODMAP diet purposefully remove foods like onions and garlic because of their high fructan levels (which make foods difficult to digest if you have a sensitive digestive system). 

With an estimated 70 million people in the U.S. suffering from digestive issues, it's definitely worth experimenting with small amounts of garlic and onions (or slowly introducing them into your diet) before giving them permanent real estate on your plate. We all want to decrease inflammation and ward off cancer, but there are so many foods and lifestyle changes that can do that—it's not worth giving yourself indigestion.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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