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These Onions Make You Cry for Joy, Value of a Close Shave , Fish Slime for Good Health, More on Antioxidants

by Marc S. Reisch
November 15, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 46



These onions make you cry for joy

Financed with funds from the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, Rui Hai Liu, associate professor of food science, led his group to study the activity of extracts from 10 onion varieties and shallots to find out which were most effective against liver and colon cancer cells. The winners were Western Yellow and New York Bold onions [J. Agric. Food Chem., 52, 6787 (2004)].

"Onions are one of the richest sources of flavonoids in the human diet," Liu points out. "And flavonoid consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes."

His advice to those who seek sweet breath and no more tears: "Although milder onions are becoming more popular, the bitter and more pungent onions seem to have more flavonoid compounds and appear to be more healthful."

Value of a close shave

Consulting firm Eldib Engineering & Research, Berkeley Heights, N.J., says the market for polyethylene oxide, used in skin-lubricating strips on shaving cartridges, could grow a hair-raising twofold from 2004 to 2008. The current market for such strips is about 1,400 metric tons and is valued at $17 million.

Driving the market are razor-blade manufacturers who are increasing the number of blades in a cartridge from one to three or four, requiring additional lubricating strips. By 2008, Eldib projects annual razor production will reach 55 billion units. With each lubricating strip weighing approximately 0.05 g, the consultant figures that polyethylene oxide sales will zoom by then to 3,000 metric tons valued at $39 million.

Dow Chemical is the only U.S. manufacturer of polyethylene oxide. The two other major producers are in Japan: Sumitomo Seika Chemicals and Meisei Chemicals Works.

Fish slime for good health

According to a recent report from BBC News, researchers at the University of West England are examining trout mucus for antibacterial properties.

The scientists will coat genetically modified disease-causing bacteria with trout mucus to see if the slime will kill bacteria including Escherichia coli, Salmonella sp., and Pseudomonas sp. that affect the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. The modified bacteria "glow in the dark when they are active, and stop glowing when they are killed," says Vyv Salisbury, a member of the research group.

Another member of the group, Carolyn Paul, notes that "if we can purify and produce these chemicals commercially, they may give us a new type of antibiotic, badly needed in view of the growing menace of antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

More on antioxidants

Reader Sidney Lauren writes that he keeps up with the latest trends in nutrition. His daughter, a Ph.D. academic but not a scientist, passes along items she fears he may have missed.

One is a recent claim that grape juice and red wine contain effective antioxidants. He acknowledged having seen that particular claim before, adding, "I am applying it especially in respect to red wine." He told her that the weight he lost recently by eating less, "may well be due as much to my being so heavily dosed with antioxidants that I have been reduced."

"I was delighted," he concludes, "that her laughter showed she remembered enough of her high school chemistry to get the point."

This week's column was written by Marc Reisch. Please send comments and suggestions to


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