Garlic: Overview and health benefits

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Garlic (Allium sativum) is one of the most popular foods out there. No one wants garlic breath. Still, we flavor all our favorite dishes with the tasty bulb! Garlic makes pasta, stir-fries, casseroles and even dips taste better, and although there’s no arguing garlic is delicious, you might not know it’s super healthy as well!

Garlic has long been acclaimed as one of the healthiest of all foods. The ancient Egyptians thought it made people stronger and was an excellent medicinal food. They fed it to the slaves who built the pyramids, and buried it with their pharaohs for their long journeys ahead.

Later, the ancient Greeks and Romans also revered garlic. To this day, many believe that garlic, which is a member of the onion family and is botanically known as Allium sativum, has an extraordinary ability to prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, colds, and dementia disorders while fostering good health. One cannot help but wonder how much of this is hype and how much is backed by solid research. Here are garlic’s most impressive health benefits. As you’ll soon discover, the healthy compounds in the bulb play a part in many processes in our body. If you weren’t a garlic fan, you’ll become one today!

1. Garlic Boosts Your Immune System.

Bio-active compounds in garlic help you boost your immune system, making your body more resistant to unwanted guests such as viruses and bacteria.

Traditional medicine has relied on garlic to prevent and treat the common cold and the flu for centuries. We need more scientific research to understand garlic’s role in strengthening our immune system, but the evidence is encouraging!

In a study published in 2001 in Advances in Therapy, 146 subjects were randomly placed in one of two groups. For 12 winter weeks, one group took a daily garlic supplement; for the same period of time, the second group took a placebo. The subjects assessed their health in daily diaries. At the end of the study, the researchers determined that the people who took the garlic supplement had significantly fewer colds than the placebo group, and their colds lasted for shorter periods of time.

2. Garlic Reduces Blood Pressure.

Garlic can lower blood pressure or hypertension caused by oxidative stress or obstructed arteries. Some studies have shown the bulb to be as effective as modern medicine designed to keep blood pressure in check. 

Consuming garlic as a supplement or adding it to your diet is a good way of preventing heart disease caused by blood pressure. 

A 2007 study published the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States examined the association between the consumption of garlic and cardiovascular health. In the study conducted on rats, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that when the compounds in garlic interacted with red blood cells, hydrogen sulfide was produced. The hydrogen sulfide relaxed blood vessels. Eating the equivalent of only two cloves of garlic may trigger a relaxation rate of up to 72 percent. And, that relaxation begins the process of lowering blood pressure.

Another study on blood pressure was published in 2008 in The Annals of Pharmacotherapy. In order to determine the effect garlic had on people with and without elevated levels of systolic blood pressure, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The researchers found that garlic did indeed lower the systolic blood pressure in people with elevated levels of systolic blood pressure. But, the garlic did not lower either the systolic or diastolic blood pressure in people without elevated levels of systolic blood pressure.

3. Garlic is Packed with Antioxidants. 

Antioxidants in garlic bind with scavenging free radicals floating in your bloodstream. These inflammatory compounds are responsible for damaging your tissue at a cellular level, causing chronic inflammation and other complications. 

Garlic and garlic supplements could control free radical damage, preventing major issues, including brain degeneration, heart disease and some types of cancer. You’ll also find antioxidants in leafy greens, dark chocolate, berries and red wine. 

4. Garlic Lowers ‘Bad’ Cholesterol Levels.

Garlic can reduce the levels of ‘bad’ low-density cholesterol responsible for cloying your arteries, causing other heart conditions. At the same time, it seems garlic and garlic supplements will leave the ‘good’ high-density cholesterol intact. 

Good cholesterol naturally controls low-density cholesterol and triglyceride levels, meaning garlic could prevent some of the most dangerous circulatory conditions, responsible for heart disease, the most common cause of death.

5. Garlic Boosts Athletic Performance.

Consuming garlic consistently might improve exercise performance and stamina while reducing fatigue. This is useful for high-performance athletes and people suffering from lung or heart conditions that impair physical activities. 

More research is needed to assess how effective garlic is in this department and if it affects everyone equally. Still, if you’re getting ready for a marathon, you might want to eat more garlic!

6. Garlic Improves digestion

Garlic is a classic folk medicine used for gastric disturbances flatulence, worms, parasites, infections, dysentery, typhoid, food poisoning, Candida albicans. Its ability to remove pathogenic bacteria without depleting the body’s natural flora takes it a step beyond being just a ‘herbal antibiotic’. As it cleans the intestinal flora it may increase wind for a few days. It is useful whenever there is a disturbance of kledaka kapha or apana vayu in the intestines as it clears both mucous and gaseous distension. It can also stimulate a sluggish liver.

7. Help prevent Cancer

An Australian study published in 2007 in The Journal of Nutrition reviewed scientific studies completed during the previous ten years that had examined the relationship between consumption of garlic and the incidence of colorectal cancer. After noting a number of studies in which consumption of garlic dramatically lowered the incidence of colorectal cancer, the researchers concluded that, ‘‘there is consistent scientific evidence derived from RCT [randomized controlled trials]of animal studies reporting protective effects of garlic on CRC [colorectal cancer]despite great heterogeneity of measures of intakes among human epidemiological studies.’’

In an Italian and Swiss study published in 2006 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers used a number of case-control studies of south European populations to analyze the association between the frequency of consumption of onions and garlic and the incidence of several types of cancer, such as colorectal and ovarian cancer. The researchers found an inverse relationship between the consumption of garlic and onions and the incidence of cancer. So, the people who ate the highest amount of garlic and onions had the lowest rates of cancer.

And, in a study conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina and published in 2007 in Apoptosis An International Journal of Programmed Cell Death, researchers used garlic compounds to kill cancerous human brain cells. However, their research is very preliminary. It needs to be duplicated in animal tests. If, successful, it may be studied in humans.

8. Boost Memory

Research conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago and published in 2007 in Phytotherapy Research examined whether aged garlic extract could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and ‘‘prevent progressive behavioral impairment’’ in mice. The researchers, who have been studying the association between garlic and Alzheimer’s disease for years, noted that the aged garlic extract reduced the amount of amyloid beta in the brains of the treated mice. Amyloid beta is found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, and it is known to limit the creation of new neurons in the brain and to interfere with the brain’s neuronal communications. The mice that were fed aged garlic extract had far less progression of the disease. The researchers suggest that ‘‘aged garlic extract has a potential for preventing AD [Alzheimer’s disease] progression.’’

Notes regarding Garlic

  • After cutting or crushing garlic, wait about 15 minutes before cooking it.
  • When used too soon, garlic may lose the properties that enable it to fight cancer.
  • Cook garlic as briefly as possible. Browning garlic may destroy its protective effects.
  • Garlic has been known to cause indigestion and/or diarrhea.
  • Garlic may interfere with medications, such as the blood-thinning medication warfarin. People who eat a good deal of garlic or take regular garlic supplements should discuss this with their healthcare providers.

How’s That for Your New Favorite Superfood?

There are many other health benefits in garlic. Considering it’s been part of traditional medicine worldwide for centuries, and that modern medicine is just catching up, we’ll surely hear more about the tasty bulb soon.

Now that you know what garlic can do, add it to your diet and start feeling better today. Healthy and tasty are not a common combination, but that’s precisely what garlic is. If you don’t know how to cook garlic, here’s a handy collection of cooking tips for you to check out. Add some personality to your meals while making them extra healthy!

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