Anti-Cancer Effects of Onions and Mushrooms

By Joel Fuhrman MD   |  13Comments|

by Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Conventional wisdom tells us that vegetables are healthful foods that can help to protect us against disease, but scientists are finding that some vegetables provide more dramatic protection than others. Epidemiological studies have suggested that cruciferous vegetables (such as kale, collards and broccoli) are far more protective against cancer than vegetables overall.1,2

New research is now revealing that onions and mushrooms have previously unrecognized but potent anti-cancer effects. We usually think of brightly colored vegetables as the ones having the most health promoting properties. We know that antioxidants are pigments, and deeply colored plant foods like blueberries are extremely rich in these beneficial pigments. Onions and mushrooms may not be so beautifully colored, but they certainly contain plenty of valuable phytochemicals.


The Allium family of vegetables, which includes onions, garlic, leeks and scallions, are known to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular and immune systems, as well as anti-diabetic and anti-cancer effects.

Epidemiological studies have found that increased consumption of Allium vegetables is associated with lower risk of gastric and prostate cancers. These vegetables contain protective substances called organosulfur compounds, which are released when the vegetables are chopped, crushed or chewed. These compounds prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens, halting cancer cell growth and preventing tumors from obtaining a blood supply.3

In addition to the organosulfur compounds, onions also contain high concentrations of flavonoids.

Flavonoids are a class of antioxidant molecules that includes isoflavones, flavonols, catechins and anthocyanins among others. All of these flavonoids have health-promoting properties.4 Red onions contain at least 25 different anthocyanins, and the predominant flavonoid in all onions is quercetin.5 Quercetin slows tumor development, suppresses growth and proliferation and induces cell death in colon cancer cells.6,7,8 In short, flavonoids such as quercetin can contribute to preventing damaged cells from advancing to cancer. Flavonoids also have anti-inflammatory effects that may contribute to cancer prevention.9


Mushrooms have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties. Mushrooms contain polysaccharides that are thought to inhibit tumor growth and viral infection by stimulating immune cells.10 Compounds in shiitake mushrooms have been shown to trigger programmed cell death in breast cancer cells.11 In case control studies, consuming mushrooms regularly has been associated with decreased risk of breast cancer in both pre- and postmenopausal women. Frequent consumption of mushrooms decreased the risk of breast cancer by up to 60-70%.12,13,14 Similar associations were observed in studies on stomach and colorectal cancers.15

From a culinary standpoint, mushrooms are excellent foods. They add unique flavors and textures to vegetable dishes, and are delicious paired with fresh herbs. Also there is a wide range of mushroom varieties to choose from, each with their own unique and interesting flavors, such as cremini, shiitake, porcini and maitake. Even the more common button mushrooms have been found to inhibit enzymes that contribute to breast and prostate cancer.16 Onions, garlic, scallions and leeks also provide a big burst of flavor to salads, soups and other vegetable dishes. By combining onions and mushrooms with green vegetables and beans,17 you can create delicious, healthful and powerfully protective meals.

Mediterranean Bean and Kale Sauté

Serves: 4

– 2 bunches kale, tough stems and center ribs removed, chopped
– ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, covered with water, and soaked at least one hour, chopped
– 1 medium onion, finely chopped
– 1 cup shiitake or oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
– 3 cloves garlic, pressed
– 1 tablespoon no-salt seasoning blend
– 1 cup cooked beans, any type, or canned, no salt added
– 1 ½ tablespoons raisin vinegar (or other sweet vinegar)
– 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
– red pepper flakes, to taste
– tomato-based pasta sauce, as desired

In a large skillet, sauté kale, tomatoes, onion, mushrooms and garlic in a little water over medium heat for 5 minutes, adding water as needed.

Add seasoning blend and enough water to keep from scorching. Cover and steam for 10 minutes.

Add beans, vinegar, mustard and red pepper flakes. Cook for 3 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and liquid cooks out.

Stir in pasta sauce.

You can find an extensive collection of recipes for high nutrient vegetable-based meals on Dr. Fuhrman’s website and in his most recent book, “Eat for Health.”

Photo credit: yeah but

Sources for this article can be found here.

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13 responses to Anti-Cancer Effects of Onions and Mushrooms
  1. I do believe that certain foods, especially vegetables and fruits, are cancer-fighting. I use lots of onion and garlic when I cook. I cook for friends with cancer, and try to include as many cancer-fighting ingredients as possible in the soups and dishes I prepare.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful article! Great info!

  3. I didn’t know that onions and mushrooms have this effect. Mushrooms are practically my favorite vegetables, so I’ll consider your advice from now on.

  4. Oh this is so great to know! I literally eat garlic and onions daily by the handful! (And I carry around breath mints as a result 😀 ) Coworkers smell my fragrant salads and always inquire. I get such responses to the raw garlic in my salad! People are really surprised and seem to have no idea of the health benefits of raw garlic!

    Lately I’ve been craving raw garlic and onions more and I’ve let myself indulge. Its so exciting to see how my body is speaking to me and I feel even better about indulging it now!

    Thanks for the great article!

  5. Thanks for your informative article! I’m so glad something I like to eat is healthy too!

  6. RC said on March 8, 2011

    Would love to hear whether cooking these makes them more powerful (and in the case of mushrooms, more safe)?

  7. CM said on March 8, 2011

    Informative article….

    … but truly, today…. one needs something WAY stronger to fight cancer instead of food. I for one wouldn’t want to wait around and hope that the food i was eating was slowly getting rid of my cancer… I’d want to be a little more aggressive and use say MMS, Silver or ozone to attack it.

    Just my 2c


  8. RC, yes Dr. Fuhrman does recommend eating mushrooms only cooked because of toxicity concerns.

  9. Wonderful article! thanks for share it

  10. i was told to avoid mushrooms, dairy, and soy when I had cancer due to the breeding grounds they promote inside…I miss my shiitake mushrooms but I am scared because I was given advice from a healer I trust…any thoughts? I would go back to eating them in a heart beat if this information is really honestly researched and valid…I don’t want to be neglecting myself mushrooms forever! Help!

  11. Thanks for the info, i’ve been almost leaving out mushrooms from my diet, and not consciously at all. I’ve been doing mostly green smoothies cause of everything i’ve heard but i’m going to embrace the mushroom now!

  12. i should refresh my menu from now on…

  13. can onions and mushrooms help control tumors and ovarian cysts?