More health benefits have been ascribed to garlic (Allium sativum)
than to just about any other food—and with good reason. The short
list of reasons why it’s smart to be a frequent garlic eater include
its antibiotic action, its ability to foil respiratory ailments in
the making, and its potential for boosting the health of your heart
and protecting you against certain cancers.
rooted in history
Could garlic be the secret that helped raise the great pyramids?
It’s possible: The Egyptians rationed it to pyramid builders to
boost their strength (and to help pre vent dysentery). Meanwhile,
across the Red Sea, a garlic prescription written in cuneiform was
discovered on a Sumerian clay tablet dating back to 3000 BC. Chinese
and Indian healers wrote of using garlic as a blood thinner back in
1500 BC. Hippocrates reportedly used garlic to treat cervical
cancer. In the early 1700s, French grave- diggers drank a brew of
crushed garlic and wine in hopes of warding off the plague.
Garlic’s first investigator was
none other than Louis Pasteur, the great French scientist. He
discovered its anti bacterial and antifungal powers in the
mid-1800s. Later, at his hospital in Africa, Albert Schweitzer used
garlic to treat dysentery.
Finally, garlic played a
helpful patriotic role during World Wars I and II, when soldiers
were given the stuff to prevent gangrene.
what’s in it?
A garlic bulb is a virtual chemical factory full of substances that
are highly volatile. Because they’re so unstable, their health
benefits depend on how fresh the garlic is, and whether it’s been
crushed, chopped, chewed, or cooked. Among these are sulfur
compounds including thiosulfinates, which are responsible for
garlic’s distinctive aroma and for many of its effects. Garlic’s
heart-protective ability has recently been attributed to a chemical
Another active component is a
substance called alliin. When a clove is crushed, bruised, or
chewed, the alliin is converted into allicin, which cannot survive
the heat of cooking or the acid in your stomach. But when you chew
fresh garlic, the allicin (and its benefits) is quickly absorbed in
Garlic has antibacterial,
antimicrobial, and antifungal activity, which in addition to its
other benefits, makes it a great home remedy for healing wounds and
athlete’s foot and for expelling worms.
what science says
Garlic studies published in 2008 and 2009 confirm that garlic lowers
cholesterol and blood pressure and helps pre vent the common cold,
and that a diet rich in the pungent stuff can reduce the risk for
prostate and other cancers.
Also recently, researchers from
the University of Connecticut ended confusion about the best way to
use garlic. They discovered that freshly crushed garlic, rather than
garlic that’s been processed or cooked, is best for helping protect
against heart attacks.
the heart-protecting bulb
When eaten daily, garlic can help lower heart disease risk by as
much as 76 percent. It performs this miraculous feat by moderately
reducing cholesterol levels (by between 5 and 10 percent in some
studies), by thinning the blood and thereby staving off dangerous
clots, and by acting as an antioxidant. Garlic’s sulfur compounds
also appear to ward off cancer, especially stomach and colorectal
cancer. The compounds flush out carcinogens before they can damage
cell DNA, and they force cancer cells that do develop to
Garlic bulbs should be plump, with smooth, firm cloves. Store in an
open container in a cool, well-ventilated pantry for up to two
months; don’t refrigerate. Cloves that have sprouted are fine to
use, though they’re less pungent. Mince the sprout and cook along
with the garlic.
Good to Know
Eating five or more cloves a day can result H heartburn, flatulence,
and intestinal distress. Because garlic is a blood thinner people
taking aspirin or anticoagulant drugs, as well as people with clot
ting disorders, should check with their doctors before taking
medicinal amounts of garlic. In rare cases, garlic may cause an
Since drying alters the active
ingredients of fresh garlic, don’t substitute dried powdered garlic
when using garlic medicinally.