Onion juice, a false remedy revealing inequalities in access to health in the United States

Washington, United States | AFP | Thursday, 12/22/2022 – On TikTok, a miracle solution against the flu is looping: onion juice. But beyond the worrying success of this false remedy, this virality shows, according to experts, the difficulty for millions of Americans to access real care.

Videos promoting this pungent solution, made by macerating sliced ​​onions in water, have racked up tens of millions of views on the platform despite the lack of scientific proof of its effectiveness.

“The onions aren’t going to hurt anyone, but if someone is sick, they need to go to real health professionals,” warns Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. .

“I fear that some will just drink onion juice and not really get treatment, and then they could spread the Covid or the flu around them”, she adds to AFP, while these two viruses are spreading in the United States at the same time as a third one which causes bronchiolitis.

This magic potion is however hailed under the videos, with comments such as “it works for me!” – a success that could simply be due to the placebo effect.


The success of the onion juice videos illustrates the prevalence of more than dubious health information on TikTok. From vaccines to abortion, influencers in the virtual world can have a deleterious effect on the very real health of users.

In one of the most viral videos (2.5 million views), a woman who identifies as a “child of mother nature” promotes onion juice and calls on people to let the solution ferment for a few hours to make it more powerful.

“Miracle cures are very attractive, and in a way, it is believed that the more painful a solution, the more effective the magic will be,” notes Abbie Richards, misinformation specialist at TikTok.

“Simple solutions for complicated problems often work well with engagement-based algorithms, like TikTok’s,” she explains. “Even more when these solutions are inexpensive and easily accessible, while recognized care is not.”

The onion juice videos weren’t removed from TikTok because the social network, otherwise out of favor with US authorities, didn’t categorize them as content that ‘could do harm’, said know a spokesperson at AFP.

Health system

A delicate question for social networks and platforms seeking to determine the right balance between the fight against misinformation and freedom of expression.

Too much moderation on onion juice could push the idea that this type of treatment is censored, says Abbie Richards. Rather, she says, TikTok could ensure that reliable and recognized information on health issues is “available, accessible and captivating”.

The success of these videos exposes “the gaping problems” of the American health system, continues Abbie Richards.

About 30 million Americans – 9% of the population – live without health insurance, according to the authorities, while the care there costs a fortune. And millions more have minimal insurance.

“It’s easy to say + remember to contact your doctor +”, warns Abbie Richards.

“It doesn’t really surprise me that in a society where access to health is restricted, where the system is overloaded and where there is confusion in the fight against new diseases, people drink onion juice or put garlic in their ears”.

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