Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes in many cultures for thousands of years and to prevent and treat a wide range of conditions and diseases. There have been lots of claims about using garlic as a remedy for many conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, heart attack, atherosclerosis and various types of cancer.
Most of the health benefits of garlic come from the sulfur-containing compounds it contains – the most notable is allicin. Some of these uses are supported by science, but even science itself has sometimes conflicting results or mixed evidence. Some studies are better than others, or larger and more comprehensive than others, and some studies have been conducted on animals but not on humans.
Even when researching the medicinal benefits of garlic, I encountered many medical websites whose claims regarding the medicinal properties of garlic were not exactly the same. Some of them used the words “possibly effective” or “more evidence is needed”, but still there are medical areas in which garlic shows a promising potential:
Garlic may strengthen the immune system, helping the body fight diseases such as cancer. Daily intake of garlic has been found to lower risk of many types of cancer. Some people use garlic to prevent colon cancer, rectal cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer and lung cancer. Some findings require further studies to be carried out. And indeed garlic is one of the top 14 foods that protect against cancer development.
Fungal skin infections
Several studies report that a garlic gel applied to the skin, may treat ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot. With its anti-fungal properties, garlic could be a good way to get rid of itchy athlete’s foot. Soak your feet in a bath of warm water and crushed garlic.
Garlic is most well-known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties that help control bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast and worm infections. There is some evidence that fresh garlic is thought to play a role in preventing food poisoning by killing bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella enteritidis, etc. It is also used for building the immune system.
According to a study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, a compound in garlic called diallyl sulfide was 100 times more effective than two popular antibiotics in fighting one of the most common bacteria of intestinal infections, showing that this compound has the potential to reduce disease-causing bacteria in the environment and in our food supply. In studies, garlic has been found to be almost as effective as penicillin.
Garlic could end your hair loss problems because of its high levels of allicin, a sulfur compound similar to that found in onions, which were found to effectively treat hair loss.
How to: Rub sliced cloves of garlic on your scalp, squeezing as you go for the most benefit. You can also infuse oil with garlic and massage it into your scalp.
There is a mixed evidence about garlic to prevent heart disease and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), but some studies suggest that garlic may help prevent heart disease, may slow atherosclerosis and slightly lower blood pressure.
Garlic also seems to be a blood thinner and thus may help prevent heart attacks and strokes by help in preventing the formation of blood clots in the body. As for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, most recent high-quality studies didn’t find evidence that garlic can significantly lower cholesterol or triglycerides. Read here about other foods to prevent clogged arteries.
There is some early evidence that garlic consumption may decrease the frequency of colds in adults. Those who took garlic had fewer colds than those who took a placebo, and when they did get a cold, their symptoms went away faster than those who took a placebo.
How to Consume Garlic and How Much to Take
The University of Maryland Medical Center website mentions the amount of 2-4 grams per day of fresh, minced garlic clove (a clove of garlic may weight up to 5 grams, but of course this all depends on the size). The garlic has to be cut or minced in order to release the allicin which is the active component of garlic.
- It is best to consume raw garlic, as obviously cooking fresh garlic can destroy some of the healthy sulphurous compounds. But if eating raw garlic is not your cup of tea – all is not lost. During the cooking process other sulphur containing compounds are formed that still have health benefits.
- But don’t microwave garlic – microwaving garlic will completely kill the allicin and its therapeutic effects. Livestrong website even suggests drinking garlic tea as an easy way to access these compounds. Simply steep crushed garlic cloves in boiling water and add lemon juice and honey.
- If you consume garlic supplement, there is a lot of variation among garlic products sold for medicinal purposes. The amount of allicin depends on the method of preparation, and not all garlic supplements contain the same amount of active ingredients, so it is important to read the label carefully.
Garlic is safe, but it makes the breath and sweat smell rather unpleasant. If it doesn’t make you odiferous, then it wasn’t very useful, since the smell indicates the presence of the healing properties.
To help reduce the odor, take a source of chlorophyll, such as a fresh leafy green vegetable or parsley, with garlic. Or take most of your garlic at night, then shower in the morning.
A more serious but rare side effect is spontaneous bleeding, either from taking too much garlic or taking it with blood thinner medications. Do not exceed the dose indicated above and do not take it with these drugs without consulting a natural healthcare professional. Garlic is safe for short-term use in pregnancy.