For many people, garlic is a staple ingredient in the kitchen. Celebrated for its ability to add flavor to even the blandest of recipes, in the culinary world, this allium vegetable can do no wrong.
And to add to its prestige, it has also been renowned throughout the centuries for its medicinal properties and significant health benefits.
It is even believed that Hippocrates, known today as the ‘father of western medicine’ prescribed garlic (Allium sativum) for a wide range of conditions, including respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion, and fatigue.
But does this potent smelling garlic bulb deserve its reputation? In this article, we will discuss the 7 surprising health benefits of garlic.
Garlic contains compounds such as S-allyl-l-cysteine, diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, ajoene, and allicin, which have been shown in scientific studies to have potent antioxidative, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-cancer properties.
Allicin, a compound found in fresh garlic, has been found to have antibacterial effects. Garlic has been commonly used in Ethiopian medicine for infectious diseases like tuberculosis. Therefore researchers investigated how garlic works at a molecular level using allicin. They observed that, as the concentration of the garlic extract increased, efficiency increased, and the inhibition and growth of test bacteria were reduced.
Research has also found that garlic can be an effective natural antibiotic against many forms of bacteria, including Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Garlic contains diallyl disulfide, an anti-inflammatory compound that has been found to limit the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines. One study, published in Arthritis Research and Therapy, found that thiacremonone, a novel sulfur compound from garlic, decreased inflammation and other arthritis symptoms.
3) Immune Booster
When attacked by a cold, chicken soup and garlic are often popular home remedies. In the case of garlic, this is as the sulfur compounds have been suggested to boost the immune system, helping the body to fight infection and disease.
Not only can garlic prevent you from developing a common cold in the first place, but it can also help to shorten the length of your illness. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel intervention study recruited 120 healthy subjects to determine the effect of aged garlic extract supplementation (2.56 g/d) on cold and flu symptoms.
The results showed that the group that consumed 2.56 g of aged garlic extract a day, experienced colds that were 61% shorter and less severe.
4) Cardiovascular disease
According to the latest statistics from the ADA, at least 48 percent of U.S. adults have some form of cardiovascular disease.
Yet, the good news is that garlic could help to lower the risk of developing cardiovascular health problems. A critical review analyzed the medicinal benefits of using garlic to prevent cardiovascular disease through extensive studies since 1993.
Overall, they found that increased garlic consumption reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Enzymes present in garlic have been shown to benefit cardiovascular health by decreasing lipids, platelet aggregation (associated with stroke and atherosclerosis), increasing antioxidants, and inhibiting the action of angiotensin-converting enzyme (related to hypertension).
This was demonstrated by researchers at Ankara University who investigated the effects of garlic extract supplementation on the blood lipid profile of patients with high blood cholesterol levels.
At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that ‘garlic extract supplementation improves blood lipid profile, strengthens blood antioxidant potential, and causes significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressures. “
5) Prostate Cancer
There is also growing evidence to support the anti-cancer properties of garlic and its ability to prevent prostate enlargement.
According to Amagase et al. (2001), garlic has a wide array of bioactive components. It prevents the formation of free radicals that contribute to the development of cancer and BPH.
Allicin, a component of garlic, has been studied for its anti-cancer potential. It was found that allicin actively combats sarcomas (cancer of connective tissues) in rats.
Garlic extracts also have the potential to stop cell division of cancer-causing cells in all phases of growth. Studies have shown that garlic has a component that prevents the development of cancer cells in patients with acute myeloid leukemia.
In another study, diallyl disulfide, a compound in garlic, was found to suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells.
6) Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is a common health issue for many men, especially as they grow older. It is primarily caused by a lack of blood flow to the penis, which can result in difficulty getting and sustaining an erection.
Research shows that garlic increases blood flow throughout the body, which in turn may improve blood flow to the penis. An enzyme called nitric oxide is primarily responsible for erection. There are a series of reactions involved in the erection of muscles, in which NO is utilized.
Corpora Cavernousais, the erectile tissue which along with Corpus Spongiosum, makes up the body of the penis, and erection consists of dilation of arteries of the penis and blood, in turn, flows and fills the spaces in the erectile tissue. Recent research confirms that garlic boosts nitric oxide.
This is very helpful for men who have low libido. While some research shows that garlic could be beneficial for erectile dysfunction, studies into the effects of garlic on erectile function remain limited, and further research is needed.
7) Type 2 Diabetes
Recent studies have directed the spotlight on garlic and its effect on diabetes. In particular, research has indicated that garlic could also benefit those with type 2 diabetes.
A 2017 meta-analysis was conducted to evaluate the efficacy and safety of garlic supplements in the management of Type 2 diabetes. The researchers reviewed its effects on blood glucose, as well as blood liquids, including total cholesterol, triglyceride, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
The results showed that garlic improved blood sugar control and had a positive effect on total cholesterol and high/low-density lipoprotein regulation in 12 weeks.
A more recent study, published in Primary Care Diabetes, shared similar conclusions that garlic reduces lipid profile and blood sugar levels.
How to Add Garlic to Your Diet
Garlic can be enjoyed raw or added when cooking as whole garlic cloves, chopped garlic, and even garlic oil.
However, it is worth noting that for some people, eating raw garlic can result in gastrointestinal burning or irritation, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Therefore, go small to see if it agrees with your body.
If you are on medication, it is important to speak to your doctor before adding a large amount of raw garlic to your diet. Certain medications, such as anticoagulants, antiplatelet, hypoglycemic, and insulin, can react with garlic.
For those who dislike the overusing garlic in food preparation, garlic supplementation is an effective alternative.
Although it’s strong smell may leave you with garlic breath, adding garlic to your diet has amazing health benefits. From offering antioxidant benefits to lowering blood glucose and reducing cholesterol levels, garlic can improve your health in a myriad of ways.