Garlic: Surprising Health Benefits and uses

Garlic. Roasted in olive oil, it can melt in your mouth like butter, while chopped and raw, it can taste pungent and sharp. Either way, this herb-like vegetable offers significant benefits — on the inside and out.

This tasty, fragrant veggie does more than make your pasta sauce delicious. Garlic is loaded with good-for-you vitamins and minerals like manganese, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and other antioxidants, including allicin. The health benefits of garlic have been recognized for centuries, ever since the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed it to treat all kinds of illnesses. Now modern medicine is embracing garlic’s healing properties too. A recent study reports that eating garlic may work to relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. So grab the freshest garlic cloves you can find and add them to your daily diet to reap these benefits for your body.

Garlic belongs to the genus Allium and is closely related to the onion, rakkyo (an onion found in Asia), scallion, chive, leek, and shallot. It has been used by humans for thousands of years and was used in Ancient Egypt for both culinary purposes and its health and therapeutic benefits.

History

Garlic has been used all over the world for thousands of years. Records indicate that garlic was in use when the Giza pyramids were built, about 5,000 years ago.

Richard S. Rivlin wrote in the Journal of Nutrition that the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (circa. 460-370 BC), known today as “the father of Western medicine,” prescribed garlic for a wide range of conditions and illnesses. Hippocrates promoted the use of garlic for treating respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion, and fatigue.

The original Olympic athletes in Ancient Greece were given garlic – possibly the earliest example of “performance enhancing” agents used in sports.

From Ancient Egypt, garlic spread to the advanced ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley (Pakistan and western India today). From there, it made its way to China.

According to experts at Kew Gardens, England’s royal botanical center of excellence, the people of ancient India valued the therapeutic properties of garlic and also thought it to be an aphrodisiac. The upper classes avoided garlic because they despised its strong odor, while monks, “…widows, adolescents, and those who had taken up a vow or were fasting, could not eat garlic because of its stimulant quality.”

Throughout history in the Middle East, East Asia, and Nepal, garlic has been used to treat bronchitis, hypertension (high blood pressure), TB (tuberculosis), liver disorders, dysentery, flatulence, colic, intestinal worms, rheumatism, diabetes, and fevers.

The French, Spanish, and Portuguese introduced garlic to the New World.

Uses

Currently, garlic is widely used for several conditions linked to the blood system and heart, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high cholesterol, heart attack, coronary heart disease, and hypertension.

Garlic is also used today by some people for the prevention of lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer, rectal cancer, and colon cancer.

It is important to add that only some of these uses are backed by research.

A study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology warned that short-term heating reduces the anti-inflammatory effects of fresh raw garlic extracts. This may be a problem for some people who do not like or cannot tolerate the taste and/or odor of fresh garlic.

Benefits of Garlic

Better Blood Pressure

Garlic has anti-inflammatory benefits and helps blood flow more easily through the body. Several studies found that blood pressure was lowered by 10% when the participant took garlic supplements. Keep in mind that the supplement doses are fairly high—600 to 1,500 mg of aged garlic extract. That’s the equivalent of roughly four cloves of garlic a day, so start chopping.

Garlic Contains Compounds With Potent Medicinal Properties

Garlic is a plant in the Allium (onion) family.

It is closely related to onions, shallots and leeks. Each segment of a garlic bulb is called a clove. There are about 10–20 cloves in a single bulb, give or take.

Garlic grows in many parts of the world and is a popular ingredient in cooking due to its strong smell and delicious taste.

However, throughout ancient history, the main use of garlic was for its health and medicinal properties.

Its use was well documented by many major civilizations, including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese.

Scientists now know that most of its health benefits are caused by sulfur compounds formed when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed or chewed.

Perhaps the most famous of those is known as allicin. However, allicin is an unstable compound that is only briefly present in fresh garlic after it’s been cut or crushed.

Garlic is a plant in the onion family that’s grown for its distinctive taste and health benefits. It contains sulfur compounds, which are believed to bring some of the health benefits.

Works as an anti-inflammatory

Research has shown that garlic oil works as an anti-inflammatory. If you have sore and inflamed joints or muscles, rub them with the oil. The Arthritis Foundation even recommends it to help prevent cartilage damage from arthritis.

Gives you better hair and skin

Garlic’s antioxidants and antibacterial properties can clear up your skin by killing acne-causing bacteria. One study shows rubbing raw garlic over pimples can clear them away. Be aware, though, that it could cause a burning sensation on your skin. Consult with your dermatologist first before putting acne on your skin if you are using any other products, too.

Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

Garlic is a natural at reducing heart disease risk because it lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s also great at reducing your risk of heart disease by relaxing hardened blood vessels and preventing platelet aggregation. How does it work? Garlic increases production of nitric oxide which keeps blood vessels relaxed. It also prevents platelets from binding to proteins, which reduces blood clots. When it comes to heart disease help, garlic’s got you covered.

Garlic for Colds and Flu

Digested garlic helps boost the immune system and reduces the severity and length of cold and flu symptoms. One study showed that taking a daily garlic supplement reduced the number of colds participants experienced by 63%. Studies have also reported that the average length of cold symptoms were reduced from five days to a day and a half. If you like garlic, try adding more to your meals when you feel a cold coming on.

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Better Athletic Performance

Ancient cultures used garlic to enhance the performance and reduce the fatigue of people doing physical labor. Eventually, the Olympic athletes in Greece started using garlic to enhance their athletic ability. Now modern athletes (and regular folks too) are using it to reduce exercise-induced fatigue. Some studies have shown people with heart disease who took garlic oil for six weeks improved their peak heart rate by 12% and could exercise longer without feeling as tired. If you like to stay fit and love garlic, add a little more to your daily diet and see if you get an endurance boost.

Improved Memory

Damage from free radicals contributes to aging, but garlic contains a powerful antioxidant to help battle that—S-allyl cysteine. This antioxidant shows promise in protecting against brain damage and keeping your brain functioning better as you age. It works by increasing your brain’s blood flow thanks to garlic’s ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. This means a reduced risk of brain disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Stronger Bones

There is some evidence that garlic can help reduce bone loss by increasing estrogen in females, which can be a big win for your bone health after menopause. Adding a daily dose of garlic could help reduce your risk of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. You still need to include other healthy foods to make a real impact on bone density—dairy products, green leafy vegetables, fish, and nuts are all good choices. But it’s easy to season your salmon and spinach dinner with garlic for some extra oomph.

Bottom Line

Garlic is delicious and easy to add to your diet. You can use it in savory dishes, soups, sauces, dressings and more.

For thousands of years, garlic was believed to have medicinal properties.

Science has now confirmed it.

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