Garlic, also known as Allium sativum, is used in almost all cuisine world wide. The bulb of this perennial plant is a staple in many dishes, sauces, dressings, and dips. Each garlic bulb is covered with layers of an inedible paper-like skin, which when peeled away reveals several edible bulblets inside. When comsumed raw, these garlic bulblets have a sharp and powerful flavor. Garlic can be roasted, sautéed, and consumed in powdered, minced and granulated forms. Most people add garlic powder to flavor their favorite dishes, however, the true health benefits of garlic shine when it is eaten raw. That sharpness you taste is from the sulfur-containing components known as allicin and alliin. The health benefits of allicin have been widely researched. The allicin in garlic is not only good for us, it can help prevent heart disease, infections, strokes, and cancer.
Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic Lowers Blood Pressure
The polysulfides in garlic aid in the widening and opening of blood vessels. Think of your blood vessels like a hose, and putting your thumb on the end of it. When you release your thumb the pressure in the hose is reduced. The same is true for the blood pressure in your body. One study even found that the spice, “particularly in the form of the standardizable and highly tolerable aged garlic extract, has the potential to lower blood pressure (BP) in hypertensive individuals similarly to standard BP medication." (1)
Garlic Might Reduce the Risk of Cancer
While The National Cancer Institute does not recommend any particular garlic or allicin dietary supplements for cancer, it does recognize diets high in whole grains, green tea, carotenoids, and the allium compounds (ex. garlic, leeks, chives, scallions) to be associated with reduced risk of certain cancers, in particular gastric (stomach) cancer. It is believed that antibacterial properties in garlic may reduce cell proliferation, enhance DNA repair, block the formation and activation of cancer causing substances, and induce cell death (apoptosis). Other studies have found garlic to be beneficial at reducing the risk of breast, stomach, pancreatic, esophageal, and colon cancers. (2, 3, 4)
Garlic for Heart Disease
Garlic is widely recognized for both the treatment and preventative aid in many cardiovascular disease, including diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels), hyperlipidemia, and thrombosis. (5) Aged Garlic Extract in particular has actually been found to reduce the accumulation of soft plaques and prevent the formation of new plaques (atherosclerosis) in arteries. (6, 7)
Garlic is known for its spicy taste but it could spice up your sex life as well. Garlic may help you sexually because the allicin content enhances circulation and blood flow to reproductive organs.
Immune Health: Garlic for Colds and Infections
The allicin in garlic has antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Because of this, garlic has been shown to be successful at eradicating numerous microorganisms and infections, including those responsible for the common cold. In a double blind, placebo-controlled study, volunteers who received an allicin containing garlic supplement daily during a 12 week cold season period (November to February), were significantly less likely to contract the common cold, and those who did, recovered faster from the infection than those in the placebo group. (8)
Garlic can be used as part of a routine for overall immune health. Many people report using allicin, raw garlic, and garlic essential oils for the treatment of a variety of upper respiratory tract infections, including sinus infections (sinusitis). In the 18th century, French gravediggers would drink crushed garlic infused wine to flight off illness. In addition, garlic was utilized on soldiers during World War I and II, as an antiseptic in wounds to prevent infections. Many cultures to this day, drink garlic tea for relief of coughs, colds and as a decongestant.
Garlic Helps with Diabetes
Many ask if garlic is good for diabetes. The allicin in garlic has been found to raise insulin levels in the blood, thereby decreasing blood sugar levels. Garlic can also help fight the effects of some diabetes related complications such as reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol, increasing good cholesterol (HDL), improving circulation, and help ward off infections. (9,10) Being overweight or obese is common in diabetics. Garlic also boosts the metabolism, which can support weight loss.
Garlic for Hair Growth
Alopecia is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks its own hair follicles. Alopecia can lead to small or significant patches of hair loss in both men and woman. While there is no known cure for alopecia, one double blind randomized control study showed that the “use of garlic gel significantly added to the therapeutic efficacy of topical betamethasone valerate in alopecia aerate and that it can be an effective adjunctive topical therapy for alopecia aerate.” (11)
Garlic Promotes Liver Health and Detox
The liver is one of the main organs for flushing toxins from our bodies. Due to the antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties of the allicin and selenium in garlic, it may aid the liver in cleansing and detoxification processes.
Health Benefits of Black Garlic
To make black garlic, garlic heads are heated over the course of several weeks. This creates a form of caramelized garlic that is black in color as well as a sweet and syrupy taste. It is believed that this aging process increases the antioxidant content of the garlic, which can help reduce inflammation, be neuroprotective, have anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and anti-thrombotic properties.
Raw Garlic Vs. Black Garlic
Higher in allicin
Lower in allicin
Higher in vitamin C
Lower in vitamin C
Lower in antioxidants
Higher in antioxidants
Less iron and fiber
More iron and fiber
Lower in calories
Higher in calories
How to Prepare Garlic
The best way to consume garlic is raw, or to cut it up. Then leave it out for about 10 minutes before adding it to food or eating it. Eating the raw form helps maintain the active and most studied component of garlic, allicin. If you can, aim to add a clove a day with food, as eating it raw can cause gastrointestinal problems as well as bad breath.
While milder benefits, cooking garlic is an excellent way to enjoy some of garlic's wonderful properties. You can ferment (or pickle), sauté, roast, bake, mince, and even press garlic.
Risk and Side Effects
In most cases, if garlic is consumed in culinary doses, there is little to no side effects. However, consuming raw garlic can cause bad breath, body odor, a burning sensation in the mouth or stomach, heartburn, gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It can also cause irritation of the skin. To avoid side effects, it is best to eat garlic with food. Garlic behaves as a natural blood thinner and can increase the risk of bleeding. Because of this, make sure to speak with your doctor before consuming garlic if you are on blood thinners, take NSAIDS, have gastrointestinal problems, such as ulcers, low blood pressure, thyroid problems, or any underlying health concerns.
In addition, please note it is important to understand how to use essential oils properly as they can have toxic and even deadly side effects. Consult with your health care practitioner on how to safely utilize essential oils.