Everything good in this world has some sort of dark side. Garlic is no different. Despite being riddled with health benefits, some of which are proven scientifically, and some of which are survive only in lore, garlic smells – well – like garlic. A turn off for some, a turn on for others, but recognizable by any measure.
So what are these mysterious health benefits? We’ll canvass some here (both the known benefits and assumed ones), but let’s first look at the history behind this special little vegetable.
What and Where is Garlic
First, you mind find yourself asking just what is garlic. Botanically, it is seen as a part of the allium genus. In other words, this little veggie is part of the onion or Alliaceae family. Some refer to garlic more of an herb. Which is right? To be frank, I’m not sure. Let’s call it a verb, or maybe a heggie?
With the family background out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the homes of garlic. For the last six millennium, garlic has found home in Central Asia, making trips into the diets of Mediterranean countries and other western travelers in search of something new. Among being used to ward off vampires, garlic has also been worshiped, used as currency, and used an aphrodisiac.
Today, we mostly use it for cooking, but in our love with garlic, we’ve found some wonderful benefits for the body!
The Health Benefits of Garlic
So what makes garlic so healthy? The benefits of garlic are usually first attributed toward the antioxidant allicin. This mighty antioxidant is said to help the body with everything from immune enhancement to cancer prevention. It lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol and heightens “good” HDL cholesterol, which leads to all around better cardiovascular health.
But why is garlic so special?
As reported by Science Daily, “Researchers have widely believed that the organic compound, allicin – which gives garlic its aroma and flavour – acts as the world’s most powerful antioxidant.” Despite this belief though, there wasn’t much certainty behind the clove. As Chemistry professor Derek Pratt put it, “We didn’t understand how garlic could contain such an efficient antioxidant, since it didn’t have a substantial amount of the types of compounds usually responsible for high antioxidant activity in plants, such as the flavanoids found in green tea or grapes.”
The question came down to the rate of decomposition of allicin in the plant. Garlic, unlike its cousins – shallots, onions, etc – has a quick rate of decomposition, which helps the antioxidant react rapidly to radicals found in the body. So while other plants may be made of the same “stuff”, garlic may use it more effectively.
In addition to that, a study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argued that garlic helped boost our natural supply of hydrogen sulfide. This compound, while harmful in high amounts, is said to “transmit cellular signals that relax blood vessels and increase blood flow.”
This has direct relation to allicin. As argued by Gloria Benavides, et al, ‘the cardioprotective role effect of garlic is caused by catabolism of the polysulfide group in allicin to H2S, a reaction that could depend on reduction mediated by glutathione.’ Medical mumbo jumbo? Perhaps. But the important thing here is that this compound helps garlic be so effective at combating cancers and keeping the heart healthy.
A Panacea to Our Health Problems?
It’s important not to get too excited about garlic, though. While it makes a great addition to any diet, don’t think this is going to save you from all the bad in the health world. Keep eating a diverse body of veggies, plenty of healthy fats and carbs, and, of course, lots of water and exercise. A combination of these will keep you fit.
The clove, of course, helps.
Dr. Berkas Comment
Garlic is by far one of the most widely used herbs both in culinary and in natural medicine. The oldest documented finding of garlic associated with humans dates back more than 4,400 years ago. A female mummy was unearthed in Egypt with not only a smile on her face, but dawning jewelry and surrounded by pottery, wooden items, a piece of glass, flint, obsidian, and a clove of garlic. Yes. GARLIC.
It was thought that the garlic may have been used to keep insects away (as I mentioned in the mosquito article published March 27th) or to ward off evil spirits. Regardless of the true reason, the fact remains that humans have embraced the pungent power of garlic for millennia.
Not only is garlic quite good in the kitchen and table, it has been used in natural medicine as an anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, blood thinner and to support healthy cholesterol levels. There are no contraindications except bad breath. However, if someone is a heavy garlic eater, or if they are supplementing with Allicin, I do recommend stopping at least two days prior to any major surgery as it has been shown to thin the blood. And if you choose to eat garlic…share.
Two or more with garlic breath is better than one.