Garlic is the subject of a lot of folklore. When we think about garlic, we probably think of it being used in stories and movies to ward off vampires. People believed that you became a vampire through catching an infection of the blood. Garlic is a very strong natural antibiotic, so people believed a vampire could be ‘cured’ by garlic. In myth and legend, a vampire would be ‘cured’ and this cure meant their ‘death’ so obviously vampires were keen to avoid it!
In the superstitious era of witch and vampire hunting, travelling salesmen saw an opportunity to prey on these fears and beliefs, and sold garlic to people so they could keep evil away from them. People wore garlic around their necks to ward off vampires. Everyone knew that the neck was a vampire’s target.
Even today in Romania, the birthplace of the legend of Dracula, superstitions around garlic still exist. When someone passes away, it is common practise for the corpse to be anointed with garlic so that evil spirits can’t enter their body!
But there’s more to the so-called ‘smelly rose’ than warding off evil spirits.
What is Garlic?
Garlic is a well-known herb from the same family as onions, leeks and chives. Garlic grows in a bulb made up of between 10 and 20 cloves. Early records suggest that the herb was native to Siberia then it began to be grown all around the world. It is known for its pungent aroma, and is widely used in cooking, particularly in the mediterranean. Though as well as making food taste delicious, in recent years it has been hailed as a ‘superfood’ because of its health-giving properties that have been discovered.
Garlic has been found to be effective in treating conditions involving the heart and the circulation. It has been used as a preventative measure against some cancers, and in preparations to prevent and shorten symptoms of the common cold.
It has long been used as an insect repellent, and it also has considerable antibacterial and antifungal properties. The oil from garlic, when applied as a topical treatment, has been found to be effective in treating warts and fungal infections of the skin and nails.
The health benefits of garlic are thought to be down to a compound in the herb called Allicin. Allicin is also what gives garlic its smell, but if we can reap the health benefits, we don’t mind having to forgo kissing for a little while at least!
23 Benefits You Can Get from Eating Garlic
- Garlic contains Allicin, which has been found to be a medicinal compound- when the garlic is chewed or crushed, the Allicin is released. The Allicin is also what gives garlic its distinctive smell. The Allicin is not so effective for health if the garlic is cooked.
- Garlic has a potent antibacterial action – it is able to kill off harmful bacteria while maintaining the body’s healthy bacteria, which traditional antibiotics fail to do. This is why traditional antibiotics can make us feel worse in some ways.
- Garlic has antifungal properties– the compound allicin can destroy fungus and so garlic is widely used as a treatment for various infections such as thrush, warts and nail infections.
- It helps get rid of athlete’s foot– the antifungal properties of garlic stops athlete’s foot in its tracks. As well as eating it to protect your body on the inside, give it a little help on the outside by either soaking your feet in water with garlic in or rub the raw garlic on to your feet-yes, really!
- Garlic gets rid of cold sores– as well as supplementing your diet with garlic, you can get rid of a cold sore by rubbing crushed garlic directly on it. This takes away the swelling and itching caused by inflammation.
- It can prevent food poisoning– research has shown that the antibacterial properties of the humble herb might help kill nasty bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella which cause food poisoning. One study even found that garlic treated infection caused by Campylobacter, a common cause of gastroenteritis, better than traditional antibiotics.
- Garlic can boost your immune system– garlic has potent antiviral properties and is used to combat many common infections.The combination of this plus its natural antioxidants means that garlic is super effective at fighting colds and helping your body’s system function as well as it possibly can. As well as eating it, you can also make it into a tea and mix it with honey to soothe a sore throat.
- It is a natural antioxidant– this means it combats the free radicals that float around in the body, damaging cells and causing disease and aging. The antioxidant effect that prevents cell damage plus its ability to reduce blood pressure means that garlic is being looked at as a potential treatment to prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is going to become an increasingly prominent body of research in the future as more people develop these illnesses simply because they are living longer.
- It fights inflammation– garlic is a natural anti-inflammatory. Research has found four compounds in garlic which fight inflammation. People who have autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis will benefit from eating garlic. In addition, inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis can be treated topically with garlic oil.
- Garlic can prevent the common cold– garlic is an immune booster and if our immune system is working optimally, we’re sick less often. One study found that people who supplemented their diet with garlic daily suffered from less colds. Taking a supplement also reduced the length of the cold and the severity of symptoms.
- Compounds in garlic can lower blood pressure– heart disease is a leading cause of death and high blood pressure is a big risk factor. Studies have discovered that garlic can reduce blood pressure in those with medically diagnosed hypertension. One prominent study found that taking 600-1500 mg ( the equivalent of 4 garlic cloves per day) of garlic as a supplement was as effective as taking the widely prescribed beta blocker Atenolol when used over 24 weeks. It also thins the blood which is useful for preventing blood clots, strokes and heart attacks.
- Garlic reduces cholesterol– it is particularly effective at reducing levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol which lowers the risk of heart disease. Studies demonstrated a 10-15% reduction in bad cholesterol. More research is needed on the effects it has on overall levels of cholesterol.
- Garlic reduces the risk of clogged and hardened arteries– garlic is known to thin the blood so it prevents clots forming in arteries as blood is able to circulate more freely. It also destroys the plaque which clogs arteries up and causes heart problems. Studies have shown that garlic can keep your circulatory system healthy in many ways. As well as keeping blood pressure in check, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, research into its effects on artery health looks promising.The red blood cells take the compounds from the garlic and the gas that is produced as a result can expand blood vessels which improves circulation.
- Garlic can make our bones healthier– one study done on menopausal women found that a daily garlic supplement reduced a biological marker of low oestrogen. Oestrogen is needed for bone health and that is why a lot of women are at risk of osteoporosis when oestrogen levels fall after menopause. More research is needed but this looks promising, given that the only treatments available for menopausal women to balance hormones have significant side effects.
- Garlic can keep joints healthy– the anti-inflammatory effect of garlic appears to reduce the likely of developing osteoarthritis.
- Garlic can help you live longer– the fact that garlic can have cardioprotective effects, such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, it fights disease and infection and boosts immunity suggests that it would be a very useful natural way to boost longevity. It combats the chronic long-term conditions that weaken our systems over time.
- It can boost athletic performance– ancient cultures used garlic to fight fatigue. The Greeks even used it to boost the performance of their athletes at the Olympic Games. Exercise-induced fatigue has been looked at in several studies which have suggested that garlic supplementation can reduce peak heart rate and improve exercise capacity.
- Eating garlic can reduce the amount of heavy metals in the body– exposure to heavy metals such as lead via work or the environment, can cause organ damage. High doses of the compounds in garlic has been shown to protect the organs from damage and reduce symptoms of toxicity such as headaches and high blood pressure.
- Beat bad skin– the antioxidants in garlic can kill the bacteria that cause skin breakouts. Rubbing raw garlic on the skin has been shown to improve acne plus including it in the diet gives you a boost from the inside. Use it with caution though as people with sensitive skin have reported allergic reactions to the compounds.
- Garlic can repel mosquitoes– a study found that mosquitoes don’t like the scent of garlic. This is good new for frequent travellers who want to avoid using chemical repellents on their skin. You can apply it topically to the skin or just eat it and the bugs’ keen sense of smell will detect it and they will keep away from you.
- Garlic is a nutrient powerhouse– when you eat garlic, you get a lot of nutrients for relatively few calories. It contains plenty of B vitamins, vitamin C, manganese, selenium, fibre and iron. This makes it an excellent addition to any balanced diet.
- It’s a tasty and versatile inclusion to your diet- it tastes delicious in almost everything. You can add it to soups, sauces and dressings and to bland foods to add some taste. It is available in powder and oil form as well which makes it an even more versatile ingredient. Studies have suggested that eating a clove with meals 2-3 times per day is optimum for gaining the most health benefits. You might be wondering about what your breath will be like, but when compared to the health benefits you can gain, adding it to your diet is a no-brainer!
The allicin in garlic is released when garlic is crushed or cut up. It will not be as effective when it’s cooked. When preparing garlic, cut or crush it up then leave it for 10 minutes so that the allicin is activated.
- Garlic can prevent cancers- consuming garlic has been found to reduce the risk of some cancers, such as stomach cancer and breast cancer. The antioxidants in garlic destroy the free radicals which can damage healthy cells and lead to cancer.
Is garlic safe for me to use therapeutically?
Garlic is safe for most people to consume. It has been used in research studies consistently for years without issue. However, it is known for causing bad breath, body odour and problems with the digestive system in some people. Some people can experience nausea, heartburn and diarrhoea when taking in large amounts of garlic. Raw garlic appears to cause more side effects than garlic administered in any other form. It can also thin the blood so there have been reported cases of people bleeding after surgery. Allergic reactions to garlic can also occur and topical application of garlic to the skin can cause irritation in some people. Garlic can be taken during pregnancy and when breastfeeding in normal amounts, but megadoses are not recommended as there is a lack of information about safety. So as always, steer clear where there is a lack of clear guidance, even with a natural product. Because of its blood- thinning effect, garlic should not be consumed by those with blood disorders like haemophilia. People with stomach problems or digestive disorders should use garlic with caution as it has been shown to irritate the digestive tract at certain dosages. People with low blood pressure need to avoid using garlic in large amounts as it can lower blood pressure even further. As there is a risk of excessive or prolonged bleeding, don’t use it for 2 weeks prior to surgery.
So the ‘smelly superfood’ does more than fight vampires, it fights some nasty diseases and keeps our body’s systems fighting fit. Most of us probably associate it with smelly breath and a scent that lingers for days, but it is such a valuable and versatile addition to our diet, with many proven health benefits. With more research to be done, garlic looks set to be hailed as a new ‘superfood’ and a natural wonder cure for a lot of ills. The research is sadly limited in some areas, but in others it looks very promising.
Add it to a sauce, mix it with olive oil and sea salt for a delicious salad dressing or use it as a marinade for chicken and reap the amazing health benefits while enjoying a delicious meal.
To fight illness and combat disease, scientists are increasingly looking at natural products. They are versatile, widely available and cheap. Is there any drug you can say that about?
Natural products keep our body in a state of balance where it’s happy, rather than making our body toxic by flooding it with chemicals and causing undesirable side effects. The best medicine is already provided to us by nature and it’s not made in a laboratory.
A happy body is a healthy body.
Botulism In Garlic Oil: Garlic-infused oils are a great way to add that flavour to your dishes, but you have to be careful if you’re making them at home. Botulism can spread when it in foods that aren’t exposed to oxygen, and garlic is one of them — there have been several documented cases of people becoming ill after consuming homemade garlic oils. Botulism can lead to paralysis or even death, and it’s not obvious if your oil contains it. The safest way to use homemade garlic oil is to make it in small quantities and use it fresh.
Supplements or Food? Is it better to get garlic’s health benefits from supplements or food? “Supplements deliver a concentrated form of allicin, which is the organosulphur compound responsible for the medicinal benefits of garlic,” McClusky said. “Some claims state that an allicin powder extract is the best form of supplement. Pay attention to the quantity of allicin on the package.”
Allicin is an unstable compound so it can change very quickly once outside of garlic’s fresh form. Some supplement manufacturers age garlic to make it odourless, but this reduces the amount of allicin available, making the product less effective. Talk to a natural-health professional about choosing a quality supplement for garlic or supplement, if you’d like to try one.