What Are The Health Benefits of Garlic? (Apart From Repelling Vampires)
Garlic is one of my favorite foods ever. It doesn’t matter what meal I’m making, at least two cloves of garlic are guaranteed to get thrown in. That’s because garlic adds a delicious flavor and aroma, no matter what you’re cooking.
Aside from turning a bland pasta dish into something that leaves your mouth watering, garlic is incredibly good for your health.
Garlic has actually been used for centuries to treat a number of health conditions and modern science backs its ancient medicinal use.
Let’s look at some of the proven health benefits of garlic.
What is Garlic?
Is it a vegetable? Is it a spice?
Garlic is part of the allium family and is cousin to onions, leeks and shallots.
Garlic grows throughout the world and is incredibly popular in numerous cuisines due to its strong, aromatic flavor.
However, this is not all garlic has been used for throughout the years.
Greek ‘father of Western Medicine’, ancient physician Hippocrates prescribed garlic regularly in order to cure a number of ailments due to its medicinal properties (source).
As he famously said:
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
The Greeks were not the only ones to pick up on garlic’s healing powers. Many ancient civilizations followed suit and used garlic as part of their ancient treatments including the Egyptians, Chinese and Romans.
Modern science now knows that the health benefits of garlic come from the clove (the individual segments in garlic). When these are chopped or crushed, they release allicin, a sulfur compound which is responsible for the strong taste and smell.
Garlic is Packed With Nutrients
Most of us know by now how important it is to get the right nutrition into our diets.
One of the main reasons that foods have been used for centuries as medicine or are today known as superfoods is because they are overflowing with essential nutrients.
Today’s typical Western diets are packed with refined carbs, sugars and very little nutrition. This leads to inflammation and the development of chronic diseases. Basically, our diets are packed with ‘bad stuff’.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that eating foods that are overflowing with goodness would help prevent illness to some extent. This is why ancient medical practitioners included them in their prescriptions.
Garlic is overflowing with essential nutrients. Most notably a number of important vitamins and minerals that many people lack in their diets.
When cooking, the average person uses around 3 cloves of garlic. Let’s take a look at just how much nutrition those 3 small cloves manage to pack in (source):
- Manganese - 8% of the RDA
- Vitamin B6 - 6% of the RDA
- Vitamin C - 5% of the RDA
- Calcium - 2% of the RDA
- Selenium - 2% of the RDA
- Phosphorus - 1% of the RDA
- Potassium - 1% of the RDA
- Iron - 1% of the RDA
- Copper - 1% of the RDA
- Zinc - 1% of the RDA
Garlic also includes trace amounts of pretty much every nutrient we need - even protein.
Although 1 and 2 percent may not seem like huge numbers, this is just in 3 small cloves of garlic.
If you are anything like me and a meal just isn’t the same without double that, or you add garlic to more than one daily meal, those numbers add up.
Plus, with only 13 calories adding garlic to your meals is a great way of getting a lot of flavor without the need for heavy sauces or salty seasonings.
Garlic Can Help Prevent Illness (Including the Common Cold)
Most of us dread cold and flu season. In today’s hectic society, most people are constantly burned out from busy work and home lives. Add low immune systems into the equation and inevitably we catch a cold.
Of course, we ladies know that we have it easy compared to our husbands who can catch the man flu!
Therefore, it’s safe to say, protecting the entire family from these minor illnesses is of utmost importance.
One way of boosting your immune system is with garlic supplementation.
Studies have shown that supplementing with garlic over a 12 week period can lower the frequency of colds by 63% (source).
Moreover, those who did experience cold symptoms found that they were reduced by 70% from 5 days to just 1.5 days.
Further studies have shown that a high dose of 2.56 grams of garlic extract per day can reduce the number of sick days from cold or flu by 61% (source).
If you typically suffer with colds, adding garlic into your diet could be a great way of boosting your immune system and staying healthy.
Garlic Can Help Reduce Blood Pressure
The World Health Organization reports that cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) is the number one cause of death worldwide.
One of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease is hypertension or high blood pressure.
Therefore, it is important to find natural solutions to lowering blood pressure and thus, lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research has found that garlic supplementation can successfully lower blood pressure in sufferers of hypertension (source).
One study showed that garlic supplementation up to 1.5 grams was just as effective at reducing blood pressure as typical hypertension medication such as atenolol (source).
The dose of garlic needs to be quite high to reduce blood pressure based on most of the current research. However, if you don’t want to try supplements, it equates to around 4 cloves of garlic per day.
The Antioxidants in Garlic May Prevent Common Brain Diseases
Common brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can be devastating for not only those who develop the disease but those around them.
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease. This means that there is progressive cell death within the brain over time. In the end, this causes the total brain size to shrink and the tissue to have fewer nerves and connections.
One thing that has been linked time and time again to the cause of degenerative brain diseases is oxidative stress (source).
Oxidative damage is caused by free radicals, which are produced naturally within the body, however, producing too many due to outside pollutants and the sun, can cause oxidative stress on the body.
Antioxidants are the powerful free radical fighting superheroes that help us to remain healthy and fight of oxidative stress and diseases.
Garlic contains a number of specific antioxidants that help to protect the body against oxidative damage, including the brain. These may help prevent degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia (source).
Could Eating Garlic Help You Live Longer?
Unfortunately there is no magic pill that promotes longevity. In fact, proving what foods and or supplements help humans live longer is nearly impossible.
However, one can conclude that garlic’s proven ability to improve your immune system, fight off free radicals and lower blood pressure, thus lowering your risk of many of the leading causes of death does in turn therefore help you to live longer.
Although it is not an exact science, it is safe to assume that with all the positive health benefits in fighting chronic disease, garlic consumption could have a positive effect on longevity.
Garlic Supplementation Can Improve Physical Performance
Around 2000 years ago, before organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) were in existence to monitor performance enhancing substances in athletes, the ancient olympians used garlic as a powerful performance enhance during the games in ancient Greece (source).
Garlic was used throughout ancient cultures to reduce fatigue and promote the work capacity of labourers.
Although more research is needed into the exact level to which garlic can promote athletic performance in humans, rodent studies have shown promising results in promoting exercise performance.
One study that looked at heart disease patients administered garlic oil over a 6 week period. Researchers found that the participants had a 12% reduction in peak in heart rate and their exercise capacity improved too (source).
Other research has found that exercise-induced fatigue may be reduced with the use of garlic (source)
Garlic Could Improve Bone Health
As we age, our bone mass deteriorates. This is true for both men and women.
However, as women reach the menopause, they suffer greater bone loss than men due to the change in hormones. This means women are at a higher risk of developing diseases like osteoporosis and osteopenia.
Although currently no significant research has been done into the benefits of garlic for bone health in humans, rodent studies have shown promising results (source).
This is particularly the case in female rats, where studies showed that garlic can prevent bone loss by promoting estrogen production (source).
This has been mirrored in one study of menopausal women that showed garlic supplementation prevented estrogen deficiency (source).
Moreover, vegetables from the allium family, including garlic and onions, have been shown to have positive effects on osteoarthritis (source).
Garlic Can Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
The big C is is a serious and devastating disease that is responsible for an enormous percentage of global deaths each year.
Cancer is characterised by uncontrolled growth and division of cells in any part of the body.
Vegetables, including both garlic and onion, are thought to affect a number of biological processes which modify cancer risk (source).
The NIH National Cancer Institute tells us (source):
“Several population studies show an association between increased intake of garlic and reduced risk of certain cancers, including cancers of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, and breast. Protective effects from garlic may arise from its antibacterial properties or from its ability to block the formation of cancer-causing substances, halt the activation of cancer-causing substances, enhance DNA repair, reduce cell proliferation, or induce cell death.”
One study in France on breast cancer patients found that garlic consumption was linked to a significant reduction for the risk of breast cancer (source).
Another study conducted in the US found that those who ate higher amounts of garlic and onions had a 54% lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those who ate less (source).
It is clear to see the abundant health benefits of garlic. Although its medicinal properties have been pondered for years, modern science now agrees.
Considering garlic is an easy and delicious addition to any diet, it is an excellent way to stay healthy by warding off illness and disease.