Medicine

Top 7 health benefits of garlic

This post originally appeared on Medical News Bulletin.

Garlic, Allium sativum, is part of the onion genus, and it is close relatives with shallots, chives, and leeks. It is originally from central Asia, but it is now cultivated all over the world. For centuries, garlic has been used as a flavoring ingredient in cooking. It has also been medicinally used to treat a wide range of illnesses and diseases.

The earliest uses of garlic date back to the ancient Egyptians, where it was a staple part of their diet. For the Egyptians, eating garlic was a symbol of building and maintaining strength. It was also heavily used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for health and wellness. The use of garlic as medicine has origins in ancient Asia and the Middle East. It was frequently consumed in the diet and used for its food preservation properties.

The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, is regarded today as “the father of Western medicine”. He would frequently prescribe garlic as a treatment to fight respiratory problems, digestive issues, parasites, poor mood, and more. Around 1500 B.C, as antibiotics were not yet available, garlic was the go-to medicine for epidemics: cholera, influenza, typhus, and dysentery. 

Garlic can be eaten raw or cooked and has a wide range of health benefits either way.

The top 7 health benefits of garlic

Disease prevention

Heart healthy

Currently, heart disease is a major cause of death worldwide. Development risk factors are high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and an overabundance of lipids in the blood. The nutrients and chemical compounds found in garlic can prevent some of these issues, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

Reduces blood pressure

In Western societies, uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) affects about 30% of adults. Research studies have shown that garlic is antihypertensive, meaning that it can help lower blood pressure. Garlic has certain types of sulfur-containing molecules, which are known to relax blood vessels and decrease blood pressure.   

Lowers cholesterol

Other studies have exposed that garlic supplements might be able to lower cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is necessary for the body, however when in excess it can cause problems and lead to heart disease. In a review of 39 clinical trials with over 2300 participants, researchers found that different doses of garlic could work to regulate cholesterol levels. In general, no negative side effects were reported from taking garlic supplements. Only some participants reported experiencing slight abdominal discomfort.

Lowers blood sugar

Many clinical studies have tested the effects of garlic on blood sugar levels. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease can all be associated with high amounts of sugar in the blood. One study looked at 60 diabetic and obese subjects and compared the diabetes drug, Metformin, with garlic to see if it could be beneficial. The researchers found that garlic supplements helped to reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, and overall lipids in the patients. This makes garlic useful as a possible treatment for such illnesses and in preventing other health complications as well.

Anti-cancer

Long-term studies over the past several years have shown that garlic can provide strong protection against developing cancer. Health institutions, such as the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute, have provided diet guidelines that recommend routinely eating garlic to reduce the risk of developing cancer. 

The American Institute for Cancer Research recently stated that the medicinal properties of garlic may be especially helpful in protecting against colon cancer. Garlic has allium compounds, which provide many of the immune-boosting and cancer-fighting properties that we see.

Garlic contains powerful phytochemicals, which are chemicals that come from plants. Laboratory studies show that such chemicals can kill cancer cells. They can stop cancer cells from growing and resisting treatment, and they can help the body’s healthy cells fight harder.

Aged garlic extracts (AGEs) have been specifically established to be more powerful than fresh raw garlic. AGEs are made by soaking sliced garlic in vinegar, or sometimes oil, for 20 or more months at room temperature. This process removes any harsh odor or irritating compounds that garlic may have, and it increases the beneficial chemicals to make them more powerful.

Immune boosting

Anti-inflammatory

Garlic has been long used for its support of the immune system. Research has determined that garlic can fight against infection-causing agents. It is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic.

Illnesses ranging from mild (such as the common cold), to severe (such as cancer), are associated with inflammation. Reducing the amount of inflammation helps to improve health. Garlic is anti-inflammatory, so it may help fight a variety of diseases.  

Prebiotic supplements, which are often taken to support a healthy digestive system, also help the immune system to function well. Garlic is known to be a prebiotic, therefore it helps improve how well the immune system works.

Antioxidant

Many chronic illnesses and disease conditions arise because of too many free radicals in the body. These are unstable molecules that cause harm to cells and tissues. Free radicals can occur naturally within the body or as a result of external factors, such as smoking, harmful chemicals, and pollution. Antioxidants are important and needed to fight against free radicals.

Garlic is a great source of antioxidants. It has ample amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, manganese, and others. These compounds help fight the stressful conditions, seen for instance in heart disease, caused by damaging free radicals.

Can garlic be used to treat all illnesses?

The benefits of garlic are diverse and many. Research studies and anecdotal stories from all around the world point to its practical use in medicine.

Although the evidence for using garlic to treat illnesses is very strong, there is still a lot more research needed to provide a more detailed understanding. Long-term studies with larger groups of participants would be valuable to discover exactly how the biological properties of garlic can work. 

It is important to eat garlic in healthy amounts as suggested by recommended food guidelines. Always consult your doctor before you start taking any supplements.

References:

Abdullah T, Kirkpatrick D, Carter J. Enhancement of natural killer cell activity in AIDS patients. DZ Onkologie 1989; 21:52–3.

American Institute for Cancer Research. (2020, December 4). Garlic: Lab Studies Find Potential

Cancer-Preventive Compounds. https://www.aicr.org/cancer-prevention/food facts/garlic/

Ansary, J., Forbes-Hernández, T. Y., Gil, E., Cianciosi, D., Zhang, J., Elexpuru-Zabaleta, M., Simal-Gandara, J., Giampieri, F., & Battino, M. (2020). Potential Health Benefit of Garlic Based on Human Intervention Studies: A Brief Overview. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland)9(7), 619. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox9070619

Josling P. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo controlled survey. Adv Ther 2001; 18:189–93.

Karin Ried, Garlic Lowers Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Individuals, Regulates Serum Cholesterol, and Stimulates Immunity: An Updated Meta-analysis and Review, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 146, Issue 2, February 2016, Pages 389S–396S, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.114.202192

Kumar, R., Chhatwal, S., Arora, S., Sharma, S., Singh, J., Singh, N., Bhandari, V., & Khurana, A. (2013). Antihyperglycemic, antihyperlipidemic, anti-inflammatory and adenosine deaminase- lowering effects of garlic in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus with obesity. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity : targets and therapy6, 49–56. https://doi.org/10.2147/DMSO.S38888

Richard S. Rivlin, Historical Perspective on the Use of Garlic, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 131, Issue 3, March 2001, Pages 951S–954S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/131.3.951S

Yan Zhang, Xingping Liu, Jun Ruan, Xuan Zhuang, Xinzong Zhang, Zhiming Li, Phytochemicals of garlic: Promising candidates for cancer therapy, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Volume 123, 2020, 109730, ISSN 0753-3322, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2019.109730.

Zhang, Y., Liu, X., Ruan, J., Zhuang, X., Zhang, X., & Li, Z. (2020). Phytochemicals of garlic: Promising candidates for cancer therapy. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie123, 109730. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2019.109730

Image by Adriano Gadini from Pixabay 

This post originally appeared on Medical News Bulletin.