Fact check: Lemon drops and red onions will not cure or prevent COVID-19

The claim: Eat red onions three times a day and use natural lemon drops in nostrils to treat COVID-19 

It’s been over one year since the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a global pandemic, but some internet users are still peddling misinformation on how to cure or prevent the virus with at-home remedies. 

Despite emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of three COVID-19 vaccines, one Facebook post claims consuming red onions and applying natural lemon drops on the nose can be used to curb the virus instead.

“Eat red onions 3 times a day, use ocean for nostrils or sea salt,” the May 11 post reads, which includes an image of a red onion. “Sleep 2 hours on stomach. Use natural lemon drops in nostrils for Covid19.” 

Similar versions of the claim have gone viral in India, where there is a severe vaccine shortage amid a second wave of coronavirus cases and deaths. Some versions of the claim, like a May 1 Facebook post, concentrate on the assertion about putting lemon drops in the nostrils. Other versions, like a video posted to Facebook May 17, focus on onion and salt.

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In a message to USA TODAY, the Facebook user behind the May 11 post, that has since apparently been deleted, said she got the information from a friend in India, who is using the method to protect themselves from COVID-19. 

However, there is no evidence supporting that this method is effective. 

Lemon drops do not prevent COVID-19

Numerous studies and experts have repeatedly debunked the claim that the acid or vitamin C in lemon juice will prevent the coronavirus. 

The WHO writes on its site: “There is no scientific evidence that lemon/turmeric prevents COVID-19. In general, however, WHO recommends consuming adequate fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.” 

While lemons contain vitamin C, consuming lemon juice or dietary supplements containing Vitamin C will have no impact on COVID-19 infections, according to the National Academy of Sciences. 

Similarly, an April 22 article from the Harvard Medical School states: “There is no evidence that taking vitamin C will help prevent infection with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”

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The claim of lemon drops in the nostril went viral in India after politician and businessman Vijay Sankeshwar claimed it could increase oxygen saturation levels, BBC reported, noting that this treatment has no effect on oxygen saturation levels. 

No evidence supporting onions and salt method

Along with lemon drops, experts also say eating red onion with rock salt is not a  treatment or cure for COVID-19. 

Mrinal Sircar, director and head of pulmonology at Fortis Hospital, Noida, told The Indian Express that the method does not work, and instead, people should wear a mask and stay sanitized. 

“Do not follow any such myth. In case you are infected, follow the line of treatment suggested to you by your doctor,” he said. 

The National Onion Association writes onions are rich in prebiotics, helping increase beneficial bacteria in the gut to build immunity from viruses. However, because the strain of COVID-19 is so new, “there have been no studies specific to onions and coronavirus.”  

“Nothing is yet known on whether the compounds found in onion would have protective or inhibitory effects on COVID-19,” Irwin L. Goldman, a professor of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in an expert opinion for the trade group.

On April 21, the Indian Press Information Bureau took to Twitter to debunk the claim, writing that there is no scientific evidence supporting that raw onion and rock salt intake can treat COVID-19. 

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USA TODAY has previously debunked the claim that leaving raw onions around the house will prevent illnesses. 

Our rating: False

The claim that red onions and natural lemon drops will help kill or prevent COVID-19 is FALSE, based on our research. Experts say that while lemons contain vitamin C, there is no scientific evidence supporting that they can prevent or help treat the coronavirus. Health officials and researchers also say eating raw onions and rock salt is not proven to be a cure.

Our fact-check sources: 

  • World Health Organization, accessed May 31, Q. Does lemon or turmeric prevent COVID-19? 
  • World Health Organization South-East Asia, March 23, tweet
  • The National Academy of Science, accessed May 31, Lemon juice does not cure COVID-19
  • Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School, April 22, Treatments for COVID-19
  • BBC, May 2, India Covid-19: Fact-checking misleading claims on oxygen treatments
  • The Indian Express, April 24, Fact check: Can eating raw onion with rock salt cure COVID-19? 
  • National Onion Association, accessed May 31, Onions and Coronavirus
  • Indian Press Information Bureau, April 21, tweet
  • MyGovIndia, April 23, tweet
  • USA TODAY, June 16, 2020, Fact check: Leaving raw onions around your house won’t prevent illnesses
  • National Onion Association, accessed May 31, Can eating onions help prevent the flu?

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

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