Health Benefits of Garlic

By Doc Willie Ong

Garlic is a plant belonging to the allium or onion family, along with leeks and shallots.  A bulb of garlic is composed of 10-20 segments called cloves.  The use of garlic as a spice can be traced back to the Egyptian era.  It’s always been a widely used ingredient in foods thanks to its powerful smell and delicious flavor.  Furthermore, the medicinal properties of garlic were recognized by the early civilizations of Egypt, Greece, China, and Rome.  Hippocrates is a revered physician of ancient Greece and is widely considered to be the father of western medicine. 

He often prescribed garlic to his patients as a remedy for a wide array of diseases.  Modern science has identified that the health benefits of garlic stem from the formation of sulfur compounds which are briefly present when the cloves are chewed, cut, chopped, or crushed.  A beneficial substance called allicin makes up 75% of the sulfur compounds found in garlic.  It’s also rich in minerals including phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. 

Garlic also has healthy amounts of vitamin C and K, folate, niacin, and thiamine.  It’s healthiest to eat garlic raw.  When cooking garlic, don’t heat over 140 degrees Fahrenheit or 60 degrees Celsius since higher temperatures can eliminate the healthy allicin.  One option is to add garlic after the dish is close to being cooked. 

Garlic can lower cholesterol

Bad LDL cholesterol and other substances can accumulate along the walls of arteries in the heart to form plaque deposits.  This causes a disease called atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of the arteries due to plaque.  To make matters worse, plaque can break free and form a clot that can entirely block the flow of blood, resulting in a heart attack.  The allicin compound in garlic reduces total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol.  Eating half to one clove of garlic can decrease levels of cholesterol by 10% to 15%.  Garlic also doesn’t affect levels of good HDL cholesterol which is responsible for bringing excess cholesterol back to the liver for disposal. 

Moreover, eating garlic daily lowers the risk of developing blood clots.  A circulating blood clot can get stuck and obstruct the flow of blood inside our veins.  This condition is called thromboembolism.  Research studies show that garlic decreases the likelihood that the platelet cells involved in blood clotting will cluster together along the walls of the artery.  This reduces the probability of a heart attack. 

Garlic can reduce high blood pressure

70% of heart attacks, chronic heart failure, and strokes are caused by high blood pressure.  This disease is responsible for 13.5% of deaths worldwide.   Whenever we eat garlic, our red blood cells transform the sulfur within into hydrogen sulfide gas which expands our blood vessels making it easier to control blood pressure.  One study showed that 600-1500 mg of aged garlic extract has the same potency as the medicine Atenolol at lowering blood pressure over 24 weeks.  This garlic extract dosage is high and requires an equivalent of four cloves of garlic a day.  In another scientific study, consuming garlic for 6 weeks reduced heart rate by 12% in people with heart disease.

Garlic can shield us from bacteria

The allicin in garlic can likewise prevent infections and bacteria.  Extracts from garlic can stop the growth of many bacteria, protozoa, and fungi.  Garlic oil or raw crushed garlic cloves can also be used to treat warts, acne-causing bacteria, athlete’s foot-causing fungi, pimples, and insect bites.  Simply rub the raw garlic onto the affected area. 

Garlic protects against UTI

Garlic juice limits the growth of E. Coli bacteria which is the root of urinary tract infection or UTI.  Garlic also protects the kidneys by preventing kidney infections.

Garlic eradicates toxins from our bodies

Exposure to pollution, cigarette smoke, harmful industrial chemicals, pesticides, fried foods, and radiation like x-rays can cause the formation of unstable and cell-damaging particles called free radicals. These particles are responsible for a wide range of ailments.  These include diseases of the central nervous system like Alzheimer’s; autoimmune and inflammatory disorders like arthritis and cancer; age-related changes like deterioration of vision, cataracts, wrinkles, hair loss, and whitening hair; genetic diseases like Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s; and diabetes. 

The numerous bioactive selenium and compounds of sulfur in garlic act as a powerful detoxifying mechanism.  This protects us from free radicals, toxins, and harmful chemicals. The sulfur-rich cloves of garlic also increase the level of glutathione production.  Glutathione removes toxins, promotes the building of tissue and its repair, makes chemicals and proteins the body needs, and strengthens our immune system.

Garlic can eliminate poison from our blood

A four-week research study in 2012 examined the effects of garlic on employees at a car factory who all had a high exposure to lead while working on car batteries. Those workers who ate garlic had the levels of lead in their blood drop by 19%.  Additionally, eating garlic reduced the symptoms of lead poisoning including high blood pressure and headache.  Three doses of garlic extract were compared to d-penicillamine, the medicine commonly used for lead poisoning at that time.  Results of the study proved garlic to be much more effective and safer than taking d-Penicillamine.

Garlic defends us from diabetes

Insulin is a hormone that controls the movement of glucose into cells.  People with type 1 diabetes have an immune disorder that causes the body to mistakenly destroy insulin-forming cells.  They produce very little or no insulin at all.  Individuals with type 2 diabetes have a pancreas producing very little insulin or their cells don’t respond to insulin and absorb less sugar.  Compounds in garlic raise insulin levels in the blood which helps cells absorb sugar. The resulting data from 9 studies revealed that garlic greatly reduced fasting blood glucose in 1 to 2 weeks with participants who took .05 to 1.5 grams of a daily garlic supplement. 

Garlic strengthens our immunity

In a year, adults suffer from an average of 2-4 colds while children can get 6-8 colds.  Eating 2 cloves of garlic daily offers a boost to the immune system which can protect us from the flu virus, colds, cough, and fever.  In a 12-week study, daily garlic supplements lowered the number of colds by up to 63%.  Moreover, the duration of cold symptoms was brought down from 5 days to 1.5 days.  Another research revealed that a big 2.56-gram dose of aged garlic extract reduced cold and flu duration by 61%.

Garlic can decrease the risk of cancer

According to a study involving 41,000 women aged 55-69, those who regularly ate garlic, fruits, and vegetables had a 35% less risk of colon cancer.  Several more studies show that garlic can block tumors and prevent the growth of cancerous cells in prostate, colon, and renal cancer.  However, it should be pointed out that these studies had only a limited number of participants.  Additional research must be done to verify these results.

Garlic aids in digestion

Eating raw garlic is beneficial to our intestines and lessens inflammation.  Raw garlic removes intestinal worms.  Furthermore, it eliminates bad bacteria that cause food poisoning like salmonella and E. coli.  Finally, garlic also protects the good bacteria in the stomach.

Garlic helps us overcome obesity

When our bodies get cold, calories are burnt to produce heat.  This process is called thermogenesis.  It turns out that allicin in garlic can also activate this calorie-burning process.  In 2012, a study published in Nutrition Research and Practice revealed that women after menopause consuming aged garlic every day for a period of 3 months lost more weight compared to those who did not.  A study published in 2016 showed that garlic supplements lowered body weight and fat in individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver.

Garlic makes our bones healthy

Garlic has a substance called diallyl disulfide which makes bones denser and can delay osteoarthritis and other bone diseases.  Estrogen hormones are essential for activating osteoblasts, the cells that can make new bones.  Estrogen deficiency leads to bone loss in menopausal women and also men. One study involving menopausal women found that consuming 2 grams of raw garlic extract daily lessened estrogen deficiency. 

Garlic can improve erectile function

A scientific study involving 49 older men found that medicines with aged garlic extract enhance erectile function.  Garlic increases the amount of nitric oxide in the body which causes blood vessels to widen and promote better blood flow.

Garlic can improve male fertility

Testosterone is a hormone that controls sex drive, bone mass, distribution of fat, production of red blood cells, strength, and the size of muscles. Additionally, testosterone aids in the production of mature sperm. A collection of 18 studies showed that garlic enhanced sperm production and increased testosterone. 

One animal study showed that S-allyl cysteine in garlic was able to raise testosterone levels in mice.  Another animal study showed that the extracts from garlic can stop changes in sperm and testosterone production for those undergoing chemotherapy.

Who should NOT eat garlic

  1. Pregnant women may have to avoid garlic due to the increased risk of bleeding during delivery.  The risk of bleeding is higher for cesarian delivery.  A sulfur compound in garlic called ajoene prevents platelet formation.  Platelets are blood cells that cluster together forming blood clots that stop bleeding.
  2. Those with bleeding disorders should refrain from eating garlic.
  3. Don’t eat garlic if you are taking any blood thinning medication like aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), and warfarin (Coumadin).  A combination of these can lead to fewer platelets forming blood clots and a greater risk of bleeding.
  4. Individuals about to have surgery should stop eating garlic 2 weeks before the day of their operation.  After surgery, patients should avoid garlic since it can affect their blood pressure and extend the time of internal bleeding.
  5. People with heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may have to avoid garlic as it can trigger and worsen symptoms.
  6. Garlic has a powerful odor and can cause bad breath
  7. Women who breastfeed may have to avoid garlic if they suspect it causes colic in infants. Colic is a pattern of intense crying in babies which might be caused by pain in the abdomen.
  8. Garlic can also cause gas build-up.
  9. Those with allergies, should avoid garlic.
  10. Be careful when applying garlic to the skin as it can cause burning damage or irritation.

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