Garlic has traditionally been used to enhance the flavor of a wide array of dishes in almost every cuisine known to man. While its seasoning properties have garnered much acclaim, what is also worth mentioning are its innumerable health perks.
There is a reason why garlic has been a regular fixture in countless Ayurvedic and ancient medicinal remedies, or should we say many reasons.
The key medicinal compound, also known as a “phytochemical,” in garlic is allicin, which boasts antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antioxidant properties.
Nutritional Content of Garlic
Garlic is packed with vitamins and nutrients. Some of these include vitamins B1, B6, C, as well as manganese, calcium, copper, selenium and many others.
Nutritional value of raw garlic per 100 grams:
|Total lipid (fat)||g||0.50|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||mcg||1.7|
Healthy Perks of Adding Garlic to Your Diet
Here are some health benefits of garlic.
1. Improves Heart Health
Garlic is an excellent superfood for heart health. It improves blood circulation, lowers harmful cholesterol, and prevents heart disease. Its cardioprotective properties help deter atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries, thereby helping you skirt the risk of a heart attack or a stroke.(1)
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that garlic compounds can suppress LDL (low-density lipoprotein) oxidation, which may be one of the mechanisms that account for the beneficial effects of garlic in cardiovascular health.(2)
- To improve cardiovascular health and prevent heart disease, eat 1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves daily in the morning. One must bear in mind that garlic is at its potent best when consumed raw or semi-cooked, as cooking tends to strip allicin of its healing properties.
- You can also take garlic in supplement form after consulting your doctor. A daily dose of 900 mg of standardized garlic powder has been found to be effective.
You should always consult your doctor before starting garlic supplementation for hypercholesterolemia, as it can adversely react to other medications that you’re taking.
2. Controls Hypertension
Studies have shown that garlic helps reduce high blood pressure, especially systolic blood pressure. The sulfur-rich compound allicin present in garlic enhances hydrogen sulfide concentrations, which in turn helps to widen the blood vessels.
Thus, garlic acts as a vasodilator, which prevents constriction of blood vessels, making blood flow more freely.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that garlic supplements are highly tolerated and a potential candidate in lowering blood pressure in hypertensive individuals, to stimulate the immune system and to regulate slightly elevated cholesterol concentration.(4)
A 2014 study published in Integrated Blood Pressure Control found that garlic, especially aged garlic extract, has a potential akin to the standard BP medication in lowering BP in hypertensive individuals.(5)
People with high blood pressure must eat a few raw garlic cloves daily on an empty stomach. If you do not like the taste of garlic, drink a glass of milk after eating it. You can take garlic supplements, too, but only after consulting your doctor.
3. Reduces Arthritis Pain
Garlic has been shown to reduce pain and other symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help reduce inflammation associated with various forms of arthritis. It also contains a compound called diallyl disulfide, which helps limit cartilage-damaging enzymes.(6)(7)
To ease the pain in inflamed and aching joints due to arthritis, include garlic in your regular diet. Preferably, take it on an empty stomach.
4. Boosts Immunity
Garlic is surprisingly a good source of vitamin C and B6 and the minerals selenium and manganese, all of which boost the immune system by reducing oxidative stress and preventing DNA damage due to free radicals.
Garlic is considered a “mineral absorption enhancer,” which increases the bioavailability of minerals such as zinc and iron in plant foods.
Plus, garlic has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that strengthen the body’s defense mechanism in fighting infections.(8)
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Immunology Research states that garlic exhibits immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties through modulation of cytokine profiles and direct stimulation of immune cells.(9)
5. Treats Cough and Cold
Garlic offers antibiotic and antiviral benefits that make it a wonderful treatment for a cough and colds.
Garlic is also highly beneficial in treating various other respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. It can reduce the severity of upper respiratory infections. It also aids in expectoration, making it irreplaceable for those with chronic bronchitis.
It is the compound allicin in garlic that is responsible for its antiviral efficacy. A 2001 study published in Advances in Therapies reports that an allicin-containing supplement can protect you from the common cold virus or shorten the duration of a cold.(10)
Another 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that aged garlic extract supplementation may enhance immune cell function and may be partly responsible for the reduced severity of colds and flu.(8)
In addition to eating garlic, garlic supplements can be taken on a regular basis to reduce the frequency of upper respiratory infections. Be sure to run this by your doctor first.
6. Fights Fungal Infections
Garlic has powerful antifungal properties that help fight fungal infections such as ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch. It also has a mitigating effect on the growth of yeast infections such as candida.
A 1990 study published in the Canadian Journal of Botany found that the conidial (non-motile fungal spores) germination of almost all the fungi was inhibited by a very low concentration of ajoene (a compound derived from garlic).(11)
Another 2000 study published in Pharmaceutical Biology found that the bulb extracts of garlic exhibit inhibiting activity against both filamentous and nonfilamentous fungus.(12)
- Apply garlic gel or oil on the affected skin areas. When dealing with oral thrush, apply garlic paste on the affected areas of the mouth.
- Include fresh, raw garlic in your diet.
7. Combats Allergies
Garlic has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that help the body fight different types of allergies. It has been shown to reduce airway inflammation due to allergic rhinitis as well.
A 2008 study published in the Iranian Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that aged garlic extract significantly suppressed the airway inflammation brought on by an allergic reaction.(13)
Another 1997 study published in Phytomedicine suggested that aged garlic extract application could directly or indirectly modify the function of mast cells, basophils, and activated T lymphocytes that are at the helm of the cascading allergic reactions including inflammation.(14)
It is highly recommended for people with active allergies to take a daily garlic supplement, especially during the allergy season.
Applying minced garlic is another good use of garlic for rapid relief from itching due to rashes, bug bites, or any other kind of allergy.
8. Relieves Toothache
Garlic is also effective in reducing toothache, thanks to its antibacterial and analgesic properties. The allicin in garlic has a detrimental effect on the growth of oral bacteria by inhibiting sulfur-containing enzymes that are essential for the survival of the pathogens.
A 2013 study published in AYU (a quarterly journal of research in Ayurveda) provides evidence that garlic inhibits the growth of periodontal pathogens and can be used as a therapeutic agent for oral infections.(15)
Simply put some garlic oil or a piece of crushed garlic clove directly onto the affected tooth and the surrounding gum for instant relief.
9. Aids in Digestion
Garlic regulates the functioning of the stomach to promote digestion. It stimulates the mucous membranes of the stomach to produce gastric juices that aid digestion.(16)
It also works as a detoxifying agent by eliminating the bad bacteria from the intestines and ridding the body of intestinal worms. For instance, garlic has displayed considerable competency in fighting H. pylori, which is the most common bacteria in the world and often found at the root of many digestive problems.
Furthermore, garlic is high in a prebiotic fiber called inulin, which helps to feed beneficial Bifidobacterium strains in the gut. Thus, garlic is useful in the treatment of digestive diseases such as diarrhea, colitis, and dysentery by helping to rebalance the microflora of our digestive tract.
10. Inhibits Cancer
Garlic helps to prevent cancer, especially esophageal, lung, stomach, and colorectal cancers. It also impedes tumor formation and metastasis. The presence of allyl sulfur compounds in garlic can slow down the progress of cancerous cell growth and prevent DNA mutation by inhibiting oxidative stress.(17)
A 2008 study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the growth of the colon cancer cells was significantly suppressed by diallyl trisulfide, an active component of garlic.(18)
Another 2008 study published in Biofactors found that garlic inhibits the proliferation of human leukemic cells and is responsible for the cell-cycle arrest, apoptosis, and differentiation, all of which are cancer-reducing events. Ajoene, an active component of garlic, is also known to inhibit neoplastic cell growth.(19)
Regular intake of garlic is therefore well-advised for people with a family history of cancer to improve their odds of not contracting this ghastly disease. Raw garlic has been found to be much more effective than garlic supplements in this regard.
What Form of Garlic is More Beneficial?
A clove of garlic packs quite a punch in protecting your body from a plethora of health scares. The fact that garlic is a welcome treat and complements the majority of savory dishes prepared in our households just makes it all the more prized.
It can easily be incorporated into our soups and curries, allowing us to reap its benefits through one delicious meal after another.
To capitalize on its restorative potency, however, try to eat garlic in its raw state as much as possible. When cooked, garlic tends to lose a significant amount of its health-giving qualities. To further increase its efficacy as a natural antibiotic, it is prudent to eat garlic on an empty stomach.
Precautions and Side Effects
- Oral consumption of garlic is considered safe for most people, although it can sometimes give rise to certain unfavorable side-effects such as foul breath, heartburn, body odor, a burning sensation in the mouth or stomach, nausea, vomiting, gas, and diarrhea. There’s a greater chance of suffering through such side-effects if you happen to consume raw garlic. Also, the severity of these discomforts is relatively greater in the case of raw garlic.
- Topical application of garlic products is likely to be safe, so long as they do not contain raw garlic extracts. Applying raw garlic topically is ill-advised as it can severely irritate your skin.
- People with a history of stomach or digestion problems should exercise restraint when consuming garlic as it can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised against using garlic in medicinal amounts, either internally or topically. Given the lack of reliable information regarding the safety of using garlic in either of these physical states, its best to avoid use.
- As far as children are concerned, garlic is considered safe only if consumed orally in moderate amounts and for a short-term period. Conversely, administering large doses of garlic to children is strictly prohibited as it is potentially dangerous and can even prove fatal.
- Given that garlic, especially fresh garlic is suspected to increase the risk of bleeding. People with bleeding disorders are recommended to exercise caution. For the same reason, people who are scheduled for surgery are advised to swear off garlic at least 2 weeks before the due date.
- People who are prone to low blood pressure should be cautious with their garlic use as it is known to cause dips in blood pressure. Thus, theoretically speaking, garlic consumption might end up lowering blood pressure to a dangerous degree in people who already grapple with this condition.
- Garlic might engender a blood sugar lowering effect, which can prove dangerous for diabetes patients. Hypoglycemic patients should therefore, be economical and prudent with their garlic use since it can cause their already low levels of blood sugar to plummet even further.
- Garlic might adversely interfere with some medications used for HIV/AIDS and thereby decrease their effectiveness.
- Garlic might engender a blood-thinning effect that delays the clotting process. Thus, taking garlic and blood-thinning medications in tandem might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.
- Since consuming garlic while you are on birth control pills might decrease their contraceptive efficacy, it is recommended to use an additional form of birth control such as a condom.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Cassie Christopher, MS (RDN)
How much garlic should we generally eat daily?
As much as you enjoy! Scientific literature points to 1-2 cloves of garlic daily to be a good number to help prevent certain diseases.
Many more studies have been done using various preparations like garlic powder or aged garlic extract (the aging process reduces some of the odor), and those are harder to compare to eating cloves of garlic.(21)
Which is better, chewing raw garlic or taking garlic supplements?
You get a much higher concentration of the active component in garlic, allicin when you take a garlic supplement. To get the most amount of allicin from fresh garlic, consider eating it raw and either crushing or cutting it before eating to activate the allicin.
If popping a raw garlic clove in your mouth doesn’t sound appealing to you, consider crushing the clove with the side of a knife, giving it a quick dice, and throwing it in a homemade salad dressing.
What can be the repercussions of taking garlic supplements?
Garlic may be processed in the liver by the same enzymes that process medication, so check with your doctor before taking garlic supplements. A few cloves of garlic daily will likely not have a harmful effect.
Garlic may also cause your blood to thin, so be careful when taking large quantities if you are on blood-thinning medication or taking omega-3s, which also have blood-thinning properties.
Please provide some additional tips or inputs regarding including garlic in our daily diet for the benefit of our readers.
Raw garlic is tasty when included in the following foods: homemade hummus, guacamole, salad dressing.
About Ms. Cassie Christopher, MS, RDN, CD: Ms. Christopher is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist whose passion is to help people achieve their health dreams with a doable plan.
Not every day is a snapshot worthy salad day, so Cassie helps people figure out what health activities are good enough to fit into a busy lifestyle. With a background in Blood Labs and Genetics-Based Health Coaching, Cassie uses the latest evidence to help people feel their best.
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