Is Garlic Healthy? The Health Benefits Of Garlic Explained
“You have to hear this story!” my aunt exclaimed when I met her recently. My aunt has a ten-year-old granddaughter who has suffered from insomnia for as long as she can remember. Nothing seemed to work, and her grand-daughter would lie awake for hours every single night, no matter how sleep-deprived her body was.
One night, she was sleeping over at my aunt’s house, and my aunt decided to try a natural remedy she had heard about to help the girl fall asleep.
At the very least, it couldn’t hurt. While her granddaughter was in the shower, my aunt slipped a few cloves of garlic under her pillow in a bag. A little while later, my aunt and her granddaughter were sitting and chatting on the guest bed where her granddaughter was to sleep, when suddenly her granddaughter said, “Grandma, I’m tired. I want to go sleep.” My aunt claims she has never in her life uttered these words – and certainly not at 8:30 pm.
Within minutes of her head touching her pillow, she was fast asleep.“Maybe it was a one-time thing?”
I asked doubtfully, but my aunt informed her daughter, the child’s mother, of what she had done, and her daughter began to do the same at home. Her granddaughter’s sleeping issues have since improved tremendously, and she no longer lies awake until the wee hours of the morning.
With intrigue, I love this story and so I began to wonder about the qualities of garlic. I was super surprised to learn that garlic has so many benefits for mental and physical health and is nutrimental for so many parts and functions of the body.
Do you love the taste garlic gives to your food? It’s actually doing a lot more than pleasing your taste buds. Read on to find out how incorporating garlic in your diet can help with many aspects of your overall health.
What Is Garlic? Where Does It Come From?
Garlic, or Allium Sativum, as it is known scientifically, is part of the lily, or Liliaceae family and is related to the onion, leek, chive, shallot and Chinese onion. It’s famous for its strong flavor and smell, and as such, is usually used as a seasoning rather than eaten on its own.
The vegetable has an ancient history and is even referenced to in the Bible. It has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and was used in ancient and medieval societies for its healing properties, to increase physical strength and as repellants for believed evil.
Although garlic is native to Central Asia, it can be found in many parts of the world. Garlic generally grows to be approximately 2 feet tall, and grow leaves from the stem of the bulb (a full garlic).
Depending on the time period in history, garlic consumption was either looked down upon or revered. Often, such as in Ancient Egypt, its powerful properties were realised and respected, but it was still not considered an acceptable food to be eaten by people of the upper or aristocratic class.
Raw Garlic vs. Cooked Garlic: Is There A Difference In Benefits To Eating Either?
Unfortunately, cooking garlic has been proven to decrease its health benefits. Garlic is widely regarded as having anti-cancerous and anti-heart disease properties because it contains a compound known as allicin.
When you crush garlic, you cause the garlic to release an enzyme known as alliinase, which reacts with another compound in the garlic known as alliin, forming allicin.
The benefits against heart disease and cancer found in garlic are attributed to the activity of the formed allicin. However, cooking the garlic straight away causes alliinase to be inactive.
In order to get the maximum health benefits from garlic, you should crush it, and then leave it for at least 10 minutes before cooking it, allowing the alliinase to take effect. It’s best to cook garlic for as short amount of time as possible, to keep its health properties active.
Allicin In Garlic Explained
As you can see from the above paragraph, allicin is one of the main compounds in garlic that is accountable for its health properties. It has been found to have antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-oxidative properties.
Described as “unstable” due to the fact that it reacts to the enzymes in contact with it and then changes, allicin is responsible for many of garlic’s benefits.
Allicin, while garlic is growing, is relatively short-lived. This is because of any threat to the plant, such as insects and other pests, cause the plant to activate its alliin chemicals and alliinase enzymes to produce allicin, which fights off the threat.
The allicin produced dies fairly quickly; however, the garlic still has inside it alliin and alliinase future use against dangers to the plant, which when activated (by crushing the garlic), form allicin. So it’s kind of like, “use some now, and save some for later”.
The garlic plant uses what it needs to keep away threats, but also saves some of this amazing compound for the future, which works for us!
We all recognize the smell of garlic, but what you may not know is that allicin is what is responsible for giving garlic its odour.
It’s also an incredible anti-bacterial agent because it behaves totally different to other antibiotic substances. It’s about 1000 times harder for bacteria to become resistant to allicin than to build up resistance to certain other antibiotics.
Ever noticed that while your peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables go bad after a short amount of time, garlic seems to last for ages? That’s because the allicin fights off fungal properties – like the stuff found in mould.
Garlic extracts have often been used for their anti-fungal properties. If you suffer from athlete’s foot, rubbing a warm clove of roasted garlic can help relieve symptoms. It can also help with other ailments, like ear infections, acne and to prevent small wounds from becoming infected.
Garlic For Illness And Colds Explained
Although the proofs for garlic working to fight colds haven’t been as formally proven as its other health benefits, it is nonetheless accepted as a good cure for the common cold, which reduces symptoms or can even help you completely avoid catching one.
This is believed to be because of the allicin, which fights off bacteria. Raw garlic is supposed to be a great anti-decongestant, and if you feel a cold or flu coming on, eating a clove (either crushed or, as gross as it sounds, just chewing the clove plain) every few hours should get rid of it pretty quickly.
If you have a sore throat (a common symptom of the flu), try sucking on a slice of raw garlic for about a quarter of an hour to alleviate the pain.
Alternatively, if you can’t face the thought of eating raw garlic on its own, you could mince the garlic and wait for the allicin to be activated, and then either mix it with orange or lemon juice or eat it on bread with honey.
Garlic For Blood And Blood Pressure Explained
Allicin also helps to lower blood pressure levels in those with high blood pressure. Fascinatingly, in a study done involving people taking garlic supplements, both with people who had high blood pressure and people with regular blood pressure levels, those who had high blood pressure levels found that their blood pressure went down, whereas those with normal blood pressure saw no change.
High blood pressure is one of the main causes for heart attacks and stroke, but the good news is that research has found that the allicin in garlic can significantly lower blood pressure levels.
Allicin relaxes the mesenteric arteries (channels in your body that carry blood to your digestive tract), which thins the blood and prevents clotting – one of the things that cause a heart attack or stroke. In addition, high blood pressure is associated with high levels of cholesterol.
Garlic comes to the rescue here, as well, by stopping the body from turning fat into cholesterol, thereby lowering your blood pressure, and in effect, your chances of suffering a heart attack.
Eating a half or whole garlic clove a day can lower your cholesterol levels by 9 to 12 percent (while still increasing positive levels of cholesterol known as HDL cholesterol) which can make a marked difference to your health over an extended period.
Garlic For Mental Illness, Alzheimers, Dementia Explained
Garlic is also believed to be a great aid for mental illnesses and also the likes of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. High cholesterol levels and high blood pressure levels, particularly as a person ages, have been proven to increase their chance of developing dementia later on in life.
Since garlic helps to lower blood pressure, as well as stopping cholesterol levels in the body from escalating, it in effect also decreases the risk of developing dementia or other mental illnesses.
Recently, there have been studies surrounding a component found in aged garlic extract (AGE) known as FruArg. Your body has an incredible immune system, which allows it to keep the good in your body and get rid of the bad.
This includes disposing of dead neuron (brain) cells in order for new, healthy cells to have room to grow, which is the responsibility of the microglia cells. In an average, healthy person, this is a wonderful and healthy phenomenon.
But if a person is living an unhealthy lifestyle – consuming a lot of alcohol, excessive smoking – or has suffered from brain damage, the immune system goes above and beyond what it needs to do, and starts attacking the brain’s healthy cells.
This happens because when the body senses stress or inflammation (caused by the above triggers or even simply ageing), it responds by forming extra microglia cells, which automatically produces nitric oxide, a byproduct of these cells.
An abundance of nitric oxide leads to inflammation in the brain and neuronal damage. A study showed that FruArg produced more antioxidants, which healed these damaged cells and protected other healthy cells from the attack of nitric oxide. It also caused the microglia cells to “calm down” and produce less nitric oxide – effectively decreasing the risk of developing mental illness.
— Vitamin Patch Club (@vitaminpatchclb) November 5, 2017
Garlic For Detoxing And Bone Health Explained
But garlic’s astonishing health benefits don’t end there. Garlic is known to aid the body in detoxing (getting rid of all the toxins in your body) by promoting glutathione production, which is an antioxidant that removes toxins from your digestive system, as well as improving bone health.
While eating garlic won’t do the job of your liver and kidneys, it does have a whole lot of nutrients like vitamin C, which helps your immune system and is good for your liver.
Besides containing other enzymes and antioxidants that help your body absorb calcium, garlic also contains manganese, zinc, and vitamin B6, as well as a compound called diallyl disulphide, all of which do wonders for your bones and contribute to your health.
Many middle-aged women suffer from osteoporosis (weakened bones) and other bone disorders. Garlic can help with these conditions by elevating estrogen levels, which in turn reduces the risk of bone loss.
Garlic For Skin And Hair Explained
Now that we’ve seen all the amazing benefits that garlic can bring to our lives, you won’t find it surprising that garlic has been known to improve hair loss, strengthen your hair, nourish your skin, and help alleviate blemishes on the skin, from blackheads and pimples to skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Blackheads and pimples are the results of your sebaceous glands releasing excessive amounts of oil. Garlic contains compounds called polyphenols, which control the extra secretion, thus assuaging the symptoms of acne.
To encourage hair growth or to strengthen your hair, try mixing one tablespoon of garlic juice (juice from about 8 cloves) to one tablespoon of honey and massage it into your scalp twice a day.
Leave it in for approximately an hour and then rinse it out. You should notice a positive difference in your hair. How does this work?
The abundance of Vitamin C in raw garlic boosts collagen production, which helps your hair grow strong and healthy, and its anti-microbial properties get rid of any germs that are stopping your hair from growing.
Because of its anti-fungal properties, garlic is also a good way to cure dandruff, which might be aggravating the scalp and inhibiting hair growth.
Minerals which are vital for hair growth, such as calcium, sulphur and zinc, are also found in garlic. And allicin plays a role here, too; it helps with blood circulation, which is linked to improved hair growth.
Side Effects Of Eating Too Much Garlic
As with everything in life, there can still be too much of a good thing. Eating too much garlic (for most healthy people, this is upwards of four cloves every day) can be harmful, and can cause various side effects, from unpleasant to downright dangerous.
Bad breath and body odour – this is a no-brainer.
While the allicin in garlic is great for many areas of our health, it also gives garlic its strong and powerful smell, which lingers in the mouth and even in the body, if consumed in unhealthy amounts.
Excessive sweating – while not necessarily proven to make you sweat more, if you’re eating too much garlic, it can make the sweat smell, which can make it seem like you are sweating excessively. Some of the issues caused and different symptoms caused from eating too much Garlic, is as follows;
- Heartburn; The acidity in garlic has been associated with burning sensations, including heartburn, when eaten in excess.
- Nausea; Eating too much garlic can cause nausea and vomiting, particularly when taken on an empty stomach.
- Diarrhea; Since garlic works to help your body digest your food and dispose of waste, it works great against constipation. However, when taken in disproportionate amounts, its laxative effects can go too far, resulting in diarrhea.
- Low blood pressure; We know that garlic helps with lowering blood pressure, which is healthy and valuable for people suffering from hypertension. But this same positive can become a negative when too much garlic is consumed, especially if you are already taking medication to lower your blood pressure. This can result in dangerously low blood pressure levels, so be sure to ask your doctor about safe garlic consumption if you are taking medication against HBP.
- Dizziness; Dizziness is a common symptom of low blood pressure, which can be caused by eating too much garlic.
- Burning in the stomach/ gastrointestinal issues; Burning sensations can be caused by stomach acids reacting to the strong compounds found in garlic. This is especially true when eaten on an empty stomach.
- Garlic in pregnancy; Because of its strength, pregnant and nursing women should speak to their doctor about safe garlic consumption. Garlic has also been known to induce labour, which could be unsafe.
- Blood-thinning/ Bleeding; As mentioned above, garlic does a great job of thinning your blood, which clears your arteries and improves you heart health. Yet, this can become dangerous if you are already taking blood-thinning medication, due to it preventing your blood from clotting and healing injuries. It’s also best to stop eating garlic two weeks before surgery, as it can interfere with your wounds and prevent them from healing sooner.
- Hyphema; This condition, which can cause permanent blindness, is bleeding in the eye chamber between the iris and cornea. Over-consumption of garlic can exacerbate this condition, so caution must be taken.
Other symptoms of eating too much garlic include allergic reaction (generally characterized by difficulty breathing), inflammation, skin irritation, headaches, and loss of appetite.
So, while garlic has lots of positives, and it’s difficult to eat too much of it, be sure to stay within the parameters of healthy consumption. It does wonders for your body, but like everything, moderation is definitely in order.
Before I started researching for this article, I actually hadn’t given much thought to the ubiquitous garlic that I use in almost every dish I make. I use it roasted to spread on bread, as a flavouring in marinades, crushed in dressings, or as a seasoning in the form of garlic powder.
Despite using it all the time, for some reason, I never gave its health benefits any thought. I’ve concentrated on leafy greens, nuts, fruits and grains, but have honestly never given a second thought to garlic. As such, I was really quite amazed to discover all the health benefits that including garlic in my diet has.
Although care must be taken not to eat too much of it, the benefits of garlic are undeniable. If you’re looking for a way to improve your health in a simple, delicious way, try adding a clove or two of garlic to your regular dishes. Not only will they taste better, but your body will thank you for it, too.