For thousands of years people have been using garlic to season their food. During this time it has been credited with numerous health related benefits, including protection from the plague and prevention of gangrene! Not all these folklore tales may be true, but modern research has identified that garlic definitely has a rich role to play in maintaining health!
Most commonly garlic has been identified as beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Not only does it help prevent atherosclerosis ( an important risk factor for heart attaches), it has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
And if that’s not enough reason to eat garlic, it has also been shown to improve the immune system and provide certain protective factors for cancer.
Common Name: Garlic
Latin Names: Allium sativum
The garlic plant is part of the same family as the onion, and the leaves look similar. In the right conditions garlic plants can reach 60cm or more.
The part of the plant of most interest for medicinal purposes is the bulb. The bulb is made up of a number of cloves, generally 4 – 20, with an average weight of approximately 1 gram (though often much more).
Garlic can be eaten fresh or dried, or as an oil.
Medicinal Uses of Garlic
Garlic acts to reduce many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. As well as its general anti-oxidant properties, garlic has been found to lower total cholesterol levels. The decrease is as a result of lowering LDL levels (“bad cholesterol”) whilst causing HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels to rise. These changes can help to reduce or even reverse atherosclerosis, commonly known as hardening of the arteries.
Garlic also helps to decrease platelet aggregation. Platelet aggregation is part of the process leading to clotting of the blood, obviously vital if you are bleeding! However, an increased tendency for platelets to aggregate can lead to excessive clotting, which predisposes towards heart attack and stroke.
When clotting happens within the arteries, the clots can either block the artery or break free and enter the blood stream. In the latter case the clot will flow within the circulatory system until it reaches a blood vessel narrow enough to impede further progress. Once again we have a blocked artery and compromised blood flow. If this happens within the cardiac arteries feeding the heart the result is a heart attack. If the blockage is within the vessels of the brain, the result is a stroke. Either case is extremely serious!
Garlic was also found to decrease two other markers of cardiovascular disease, homocysteine and C-reactive protein ( marker of inflammation).
Garlic has also been found to assist in lowering of blood pressure. Raised blood pressure has a number of negative effects in the body. First and foremost, it can lead to a blowing out of the artery, known as an aneurysm. This weakened part of the artery can finally rupture, leading to stroke (if in the brain) or internal bleeding.
In addition, raised blood pressure can cause damage to the endothelium, the delicate lining of the blood vessels. In it’s attempts to reverse this damage, the body forms cholesterol filled plaques in these areas. This is the start of atherosclerosis, which, as with clotting, can lead to heart attack or stroke.
The damage to the blood vessels caused by hypertension can also lead to damage in the organs which are responsible for filtering the blood of toxins, namely the kidneys. The kidneys filter an extremely large volume of blood, constantly removing and detoxifiying various chemicals. Damage to the blood vessels can seriously compromise this ability.
Garlic has a reputation as an immune system booster. It is believed that this might be the mechanism by which garlic exhibits its anti-cancer activity.
It has been found that people who routinely include garlic (cooked or raw) in their diet have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, particularly stomach and colon cancer. Garlic has also been found to offer some protection against various other cancers, such as breast and prostate cancers.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that occur naturally in the body. Environmental toxins, for example due to air pollution,smoking cigarettesGarlic also has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help destroy free radicals — particles that can damage cell membranes, interact with genetic material, and possibly contribute to the aging process as well as the development of a number of conditions including heart disease and cancer.
Free radicals occur naturally in the body, but environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, cigarette smoking, and air pollution) can increase the number of these damaging particles. Antioxidants, such as those contained in garlic, can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause over time.
Bacterial and Fungal Infections
And as if avoiding heart attack, cancer and stroke aren’t enough, garlic has also been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects. This makes the topical application of garlic useful (if somewhat malodorous!) in the treatment of various skin conditions, particularly fungal infections.
Several studies have shown the effective treatment of fungal infections by the topical application of garlic. One study in particular showed garlic to be as effective as the antifungal drug clotrimazole in treating oral candidiasis (oral thrush).
Yes, there’s more to this amazing herb!
Ascaris lumbricoides (roundworm) is a very common intestinal parasite. In animals, large quantities of fresh, raw garlic have been found to have antiparasitic properties against this parasite. However this effect has not been clinically studied in people.
Garlic contains numerous important, active compounds. Several of these have been identified but there remain many more that have not.
One such compound is alliin, derived from the sulphur-containing amino acid cysteine. Cutting or crushing garlic cloves causes the alliin to be converted into allicin. It is thought that allicin is one of the active compounds which provides many of the healing properties of garlic. it is also though to be on of the primary substances which impart to garlic its characteristic odor
Garlic supplements are made from whole fresh garlic, dried, or freeze-dried garlic, garlic oil, and aged garlic extracts.
Whole garlic clove (as a food supplement): 2 – 4 grams per day of fresh, minced garlic clove (each clove is approximately 1 gram)
Aged garlic extract: 600 – 1,200 mg, daily in divided doses
Tablets of freeze-dried garlic: 200 mg, 2 tablets 3 times daily, standardized to 1.3% alliin or 0.6% allicin. Products may also be found standardized to contain 10 – 12 mg/Gm alliin and 4,000 mcg of total allicin potential (TAP).
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 2 to 5 grams fresh garlic, 0.4 to 1.2 grams of dried powder, 2 to 5 milligrams oil, 300 to 1000 milligrams of extract, or other formulations that are equal to 2 to 5 milligrams of allicin daily.
Side Effects and Precautions
The most common side effects o garlic include bad breath and body odor.
Allergic reactions have also been reported. People with a known allergy to garlic, any of its ingredients, or to other members of the Liliaceae (lily) family, including hyacinth, tulip, onion, leek, and chives, should avoid garlic.
Garlic has been known to cause rash or skin burns, both in people using topical garlic and in food preparers handling garlic.
Due to the effect on platelet aggregation bleeding is a potentially serious side effect of garlic use. This included bleeding after surgery and spontaneous bleeding.
Do you have any questions about this amazing herb? Or anything to add to the above? Leave me a comment below – I’d love to hear from you 😉