Garlic has been cultivated for use both as a food and as a medicine for over 4,500 years. While the wonderful flavor that garlic imparts on food is unmistakable, the health benefits of garlic have long been debated and steeped in folklore and mysticism. While some consider garlic to be nothing more than a normal spice, some cultures throughout history have revered the plant so much that they have actually worshiped it as a deity!
Modern science is helping to finally separate some of the fact from the fiction when it comes to the real benefits of eating garlic. Full-fledged pharmaceutical trials have never been done on the medicinal properties of garlic, and are very unlikely to ever be done for economic reasons. Drug trials are extremely expensive, and no drug company has any incentive to pay to prove the beneficial medicinal qualities of a cheap, natural food. An increasing number of modern studies done by medical and educational institutions, however, seem to indicate that garlic benefits health in a number of important ways.
Boosting the Immune System
Garlic acts as a natural antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal agent in laboratory tests, and this ability may extend to the human body when consumed. It has been used to help strengthen the body’s defenses against infections, including bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. It seems to be most effective in helping fight chest infections.
Garlic contains several antioxidants, including Vitamin C and Allicin, the compound that gives garlic its pungent aroma and flavor. These antioxidants bind with dangerous “free radicals” in the body, neutralizing them. This may help prevent or slow several degenerative diseases, premature aging, or even cancer.
Preventing & Shortening the Common Cold
Some studies (and centuries of folk medicine) have shown that the regular consumption of garlic can help reduce the likelihood of catching the common cold, and that people who regularly consume garlic experience fewer symptoms and reduced durations of illness when they do catch cold. This is likely due to a combination of garlic’s antiviral properties and high Vitamin C content.
While the research is not conclusive, it appears that regular consumption of garlic may help reduce the likelihood of cancer, particularly those cancers that affect the digestive tract (e.g. stomach cancer, colon cancer, throat cancer, etc.). This appears to be due to the powerful antioxidants present in garlic, as free radicals are believed to be a major cause of cancer in humans.
Of all the ways garlic benefits health, probably the most widely reported is its effect on cardiovascular health. Some studies show that garlic can lower total cholesterol, and can help shift cholesterol concentrations from unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) toward healthier high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Garlic also seems to be effective at reducing the amount of plaque buildup on vascular walls, as well as inhibiting vascular calcification (i.e. arteriosclerosis). Garlic additionally acts as a vasodilator and a mild blood thinner, both of which can help reduce blood pressure. Lowering long-term blood pressure is one of the most important factors in preventing heart disease.
All of the purported health benefits of garlic can potentially come from just adding a little more of it to your daily diet. Fresh, minced garlic added to your cooking, garlic powder sprinkled on dishes, and warm, delicious garlic bread are all great ways to consume more of it. Those who want to avoid smelling like garlic all the time, though, can get most of the same benefits by taking a nearly-odorless garlic supplement a few times a day.