For thousands of years, many people have turned to different foods and food components to prevent disease and treat their illnesses.

One of the most popular medicinal herbs that have been used for this purpose is Allium sativum I., which is more commonly known as garlic.

Garlic, while widely known for its pungent smell when found alone, can improve the quality and taste of different cultural cuisines in many countries around the world. In addition, garlic is comprised of several different chemical components that can provide various health benefits following its ingestion.

This article will provide you with a more well-rounded knowledge of garlic, its chemical composition and related health benefits, as well as different ways in which you can further incorporate this highly versatile food product into your daily routine.

What is Garlic?

health benefits of garlic

The garlic plant is a member of the Liliaceae family. While the English word for garlic is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘gar-leac,’ which refers to its flowering stalk; its plant name of Allium sativum comes from the Celtic word ‘all’ which means burning/stinging, whereas the latter term is Latin for planted/cultivated.

Garlic is a bulbous plant that can grow up to 1.2 meters in height, whereas each clove of garlic can range in its weight anywhere between 3 and 6 grams.

As previously mentioned, garlic has been widely used throughout history to treat a wide range of maladies ranging from earaches and mild fevers to leprosy, deafness and parasitic infections. The long historical use of garlic has allowed for epidemiologists to find clear associations between the use of garlic and its association with reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. In addition, garlic has been associated with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral effects when ingested.

Chemical Constituents of Garlic

Garlic is most commonly known for its pungent smell and unique flavor, which can be attributed to the presence of approximately 33 different organosulfur compounds. Most of these organosulfur compounds are allyl derivatives, which is a term used to describe the specific chemical structure shared by most of these compounds. Some of the most relevant organosulfur compounds present within garlic include:

  • Alliin
  • Allicin
  • Ajoene
  • Allylpropyl disulfide
  • Diallyl trisulfide
  • Sallylcysteine
  • Vinyldithiines
  • 𝝲-glutamylcysteine1

About 25% of the substances that make up garlic are natural sugars such as fructose, glucose, sinsuline and arabinose. Garlic has also been noted to be richer in a crucial nucleic acid known as adenosine, which makes a significant portion of our genetic material, as compared to any other food product on the planet.

Several minerals that play an important role in maintaining our general health can also be found in garlic, some of which include:

  • Selenium
  • Germanium
  • Tellurium 1

Health Benefits of Garlic

Cardiovascular Diseases

cardiovascular diseases

Scientific research that has been conducted on the connection between garlic consumption and cardiovascular diseases has shown that this food product can provide the following benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Prevent atherosclerosis
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Lower triglyceride (fat) levels
  • Prevent unwanted blood clotting
Garlic Dose Reported Benefits Study
200 mg of garlic powder/ 3 times a day + medication treatment

Average reduction in blood pressure (garlic patients): 10-11 mmHg

Average reduction in blood pressure (placebo): 6-8 mmHg

Kandziora, J., et al. (1988)

Garlic’s association with reducing blood pressure has been associated with its ability to act like prostaglandins in the body. Although prostaglandins primarily arise in response to tissue damage or inflammation, they can also decrease the level of resistance that exists within our blood vessels. Since high blood pressure is associated with increased resistance in the blood vessels, garlic’s ability to reverse these effects is very beneficial for treating these patients!

Cancer

Cancer

Garlic’s association with reducing the growth of tumors has been largely attributed to the actions of the allylsulfide compounds previously mentioned, particularly allicin, diallyl sulfide (DADS), diallyl trisulfide (DATS) and 𝝲-glutamylcysteine. The specific mechanisms of these compounds that allow for the prevention of cancer include:

  • Preventing mutations in genes
  • Changing the ways in which certain enzymes function
  • Prevent the formation of DNA adducts
    • → A DNA adduct is a part of the DNA strand that is directly attached to a   chemical in the body that can ultimately cause cancer.
  • Eliminate free-radicals in the body
    • → Excess free radicals/the inability to eliminate free radicals from the body can lead to various disease states, such as cancer.
  • Prevent unwanted cell growth1

Some of the specific cancer cell lines that researchers have treated with garlic compounds to demonstrate these anti-cancer effects include:

  • Colon cancer cells
  • Mammary cancer cells
  • Endometrial cancer cells
  • Promyelocytic leukemia cells
  • Melanoma cells
  • Basal cell carcinoma cells 2

 

Diabetes

diabetes

Several different in vivo studies have shown the correlation between garlic intake and reduced blood glucose levels. When used in clinical studies, studies have shown that garlic reduces cholesterol levels in patients better than the placebo. It is believed that alliin, allicin, DADS, DATS,  diallyl sulfide (DAS) and ajoene are responsible for these effects. Overall, a greater amount of research is still needed to confirm the beneficial effect garlic has on treating diabetes2.

Anti-Microbial

The anti-microbial properties of garlic have been well-documented against a number of gram-positive, gram-negative and acid-fast bacteria, some of which include:

  • Salmonella
  • Escherichia coli
  • Pseudomonas
  • Proteus
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Klebsiella
  • Clostridium
  • Helicobacter

The primary component of garlic responsible for its anti-microbial activity is allicin. Studies have shown that allicin can inhibit the activity of sulfhydryl enzymes, which can play a role in extending the life of microorganisms like E. coli.

Ways to Use Garlic

Raw Garlic

The most common way in which garlic is consumed in its raw form. Allicin is the dominant chemical compound of garlic when it is ingested as a raw substance.

Garlic Oil

Garlic oil can be generated by steam distillation. For each kilogram of garlic, it is estimated that 2.5 to 3.0 grams of garlic oil can be obtained. As compared to raw garlic, the steaming process used to create garlic oil allows for DAS, DATS and DADS to be present in much higher concentrations.

Garlic Powder

In order to obtain garlic powder, raw garlic cloves are dehydrated and pulverized into a powder. This dehydration process requires the application of heat, which deactivates the allinase enzyme that subsequently reduces the presence of certain active chemical compounds of garlic, such as alliin, to be present in its powder form.

Garlic Supplements

Several different companies offer garlic dietary supplements that can be ingested as either tablets or capsules, such as Allimed. To learn more about some of the best garlic supplements currently available on the market, click here.

Topical Garlic Gel/Cream

Garlic is widely used as a topical treatment for various dermatological conditions, some of which include:

  • Psoriasis
  • Alopecia areata
  • Keloid scar
  • Wound healing
  • Cutaneous corn
  • Viral infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Leishmaniasis
  • Skin aging
  • Skin rejuvenation3

Garlic Dosage

The recommended garlic dosage will vary greatly, depending upon the specific condition in which an individual is interested in treating, as well as their preferred method of intake. In general, the following table provides some guidelines on how garlic is typically dosed:

Form of Garlic Recommended Dose
Fresh raw garlic 2 to 5 grams
Dried garlic powder 0.4 to 1.2 grams
Garlic extract (solid) 300 to 1,000 mg
Aged garlic extract (liquid) 2,4000 milligrams/day 4

 

Side Effects of Too Much Garlic

Aside from the possibility that an individual might experience an allergic reaction to garlic when ingested, other unwanted side effects may occur following the ingestion of garlic, particularly in larger doses. These potential side effects include:

  • Breath odor
  • Body odor
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Upset stomach 4

Garlic Recipe Ideas

garlic stir fry

Anyone can increase their intake of raw garlic by incorporating even just half a clove of garlic into various different meals. Some of the easiest ways in which you can incorporate garlic into your diet include:

  • Add some chopped/minced garlic with fresh tomatoes and basil for a pizza, pasta or bread topping
  • Add some chopped/minced garlic into salsa or guacamole
  • Pesto sauce
  • Add sliced garlic into your salad
  • Spread chopped/minced garlic onto a slice of toast
  • Garlic tea

While raw garlic is considered to provide the greatest health benefits to people, you can also experience many of the same health benefits of garlic when cooking with it. It is generally recommended to use 1-2 cloves of garlic that are crushed, chopped or minced for each dish you are cooking with. Some common ways in which people cook with garlic include:

  • Adding garlic into pasta dishes
  • Add some garlic into sauteed vegetables
  • Add some garlic into a potato dish
  • Marinate meat or tofu with a garlic rub

Get Your Stink On (Conclusion)

The verdict is in – garlic offers many health benefits for any individual looking to either treat their current health conditions or prevent one from occurring in the future. While this plant may be pungent and not pleasing to all, its health benefits are undeniable. It also goes really well with whole grain pasta, meats, and veggies.

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