Garlic has also been referred to as the food that one avoids before meeting someone! You can make anyone run miles away from you if you have garlic breath. It is unpleasant yes, but the substance which gives this peculiar odour to garlic, also is responsible for various benefits of garlic. It has been used as an herb for many generations, as well as for its medicinal value.
Garlic plant belongs to the same family as Onions and Leek. It has been in use for over 7000 years and is a native plant of Central Asia. It has been in use for culinary and medicinal purposes. It has a strong and pungent flavour. A single bulb of the Garlic plant is made up of several segments known as cloves. One bulb can contain anywhere between 10-20 cloves, except for Pearl Garlic, which has single clove. Garlic leaves and flowers are also used in culinary preparations and they impart a mild flavour than the cloves.
Why Garlic is considered medicinal?
The medicinal properties of Garlic can be attributed to an active compound called as “Allicin” which is a sulphur compound. It is produced when Garlic is crushed, cut or chewed and is present in the form of an oily liquid with a pungent smell. Garlic also contains various flavonoids which are responsible for some of the benefits of garlic. It is considered to be a medicinal herb because it has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral properties, along with having anti-oxidant properties.
Benefits of Garlic:
1. Reduces Cholesterol & Improves Heart Health:
High cholesterol levels increase the risk of developing heart disease. Having a garlic odour is a small price to pay if it is going to help you in getting your cholesterol levels down, although you can always take supplements. It has long been known as an herb which is good for heart health.
Various studies have been carried out on the effectiveness of garlic in this context, and there is ongoing research as well. It has been found that the total cholesterol as well as LDL or bad cholesterol levels reduce by almost 10-15% by garlic supplementation. There hasn’t been a significant impact on the HDL cholesterol levels, they do not increase or decrease. The cholesterol lowering benefit is attributed to the organosulfur compounds present in Garlic, one of which is Allicin.
2. Reduces Blood Pressure
Increased blood pressure or Hypertension is referred to as a Silent Killer, because it does not have major symptoms initially, but can result in various life threatening situations. According to WHO, 7.5 million deaths have been caused due to increased blood pressure!
If you ensure you have garlic added to your diet on a daily basis, you can significantly decrease your blood pressure and with that all the corresponding conditions like heart attack and stroke.
In a study of 50 patients on treatment for uncontrolled hypertension, aged garlic extract reduced the systolic blood pressure as effectively as the medication.
For hypertension also, the compound which is beneficial is Allicin. However, the amount of Allicin required to have this effect, is equivalent to 4 cloves of garlic.
3. Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Conditions of the mind are very difficult to deal with, especially since there are no obvious physical symptoms. Alzheimer’s and Dementia is hard for the person suffering from it as well as the family and care givers.
Ageing is fastened due to oxidative stress, which increases when there are high number of free radicals in the body. Garlic is known to have antioxidants, which protect the body from the damage caused by these free radicals. It is also seen that the intake of garlic causes the anti-oxidative enzymes to increase. This is quite important and beneficial in preventing brain diseases.
This works well in the elderly population because of its combined effect of anti-oxidant activity, reducing cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
4. Bone Health in Women
Menopausal women have long been known to suffer from osteoporosis, osteoarthritis or other bone disorders and it is mainly attributed to the low estrogen levels in the body. Garlic can help women in dealing with bone health, by elevating the estrogen.
Animal studies performed on female rodents have shown that the garlic increased the estrogen levels and thus there was a decrease in bone loss. Besides this, the other mode of action could also be by the increase in transfer of calcium in the intestine.
In a human study, menopausal women showed benefit by having garlic, where the marker for estrogen deficiency also reduced significantly.
We add a lot of toxins into our body on a daily basis, which get accumulated and can cause problems. One such example is of heavy metals, like lead, which can cause toxicity in the body.
In a study, garlic supplementation was compared with another medicine, on 117 workers of a car battery factory, who had been exposed to lead. It was found that garlic was much more effective and safe, without much side effects as well. For mild and moderate lead poisoning, garlic supplementation can be recommended.
Garlic is effective because the heavy metal from the body, bind with the sulphur compounds present in garlic and are eliminated from the system.
6. Hair fall and other related conditions
Garlic can be used as an effective agent against hair fall and dandruff, lets read on to know how. Allicin again comes to the rescue and can be helpful for hair loss problems. You can rub garlic directly on the scalp or you can use oil which has been infused with garlic.
Dandruff: The flaky dry skin is a common but embarrassing condition. It sometimes leads to itching as well, and worsens in certain weathers. Garlic is an excellent herbal remedy for dandruff due to its anti-fungal properties. Crushed garlic has high concentration of Allicin, which helps in dealing with dandruff. You can use garlic both orally and topically as treatment against dandruff. Keeping the crushed garlic for 10-15 minutes, before eating or applying, helps in increasing its allicin content.
7. Skin ailments
Garlic can be used for cosmetic purposes like getting rid of acne. Those zits that appear on your cheeks out of nowhere can be taken care of by a clove of garlic. For topical application you can cut a clove of garlic and rub it against the pimple or blemish. The bacteria will be killed by the anti-oxidants present in garlic
Psoriasis: It can be very difficult to deal with. Garlic can be helpful even for this condition. All you need to do is take garlic oil and apply on the affected portion of the skin. The anti-inflammatory action of garlic will help in reducing the rash and giving a smooth skin. It also inhibits the activity of an enzyme called lipoxygenase, which is responsible for causing the inflammation in patients with psoriasis.
Cold sores: They can also be treated by applying crushed garlic or garlic oil on the sore. The healing process speeds up, as well as the anti-inflammatory action helps. Another skin condition – Athlete’s foot – can benefit by using garlic. The itchiness reduces, because of the anti-fungal properties of Garlic.
Wrinkles: Cosmetic companies charge a bomb for anti-ageing, anti-wrinkles creams. Men is forever in search of finding the elixir of life. Well garlic will help in taking care of the wrinkles and pre-mature fine lines appearing on the face. Include raw garlic in the diet for it to work. The effect is attributed to the anti-oxidant activity of allicin, and the presence of nutrients like zinc, selenium and vitamin C. Due to these same reasons, it is beneficial against UV radiation as well.
8. Common Cold
Common cold & Flu is a condition which is seen very frequently and can be caused when the immune system is down. Immune system gets a boost by consumption of garlic, by the anti-oxidants, and it would make sense to add ensure that your diet also has a healthy supply of garlic in it. You can also opt for garlic tea, to help you deal with the cold.
In a 12 week study of 146 volunteers, it was seen that the group taking garlic supplements had very few occurrences of cold as compared to the placebo group. The duration of cold also was reduced to 1.5 days for garlic group to 5 days of placebo group.
Another study of 120 subjects concluded that consumption of aged garlic helps in reduces severity of cold and flu.
9. Reduces risk of Cancer
Cancer is a dreaded disease which affects different parts of the body and claims many lives. Besides the usual anti-cancer treatment and medication, various foods have been attributed with anti-cancer properties; garlic is one of them.
The allicin in garlic plays an important role in anti-cancer activities, by activating certain cell molecules. These molecules prevent the formation of cancerous cells. When garlic is consumed on a daily basis, which is considered as high intake, it helps in lowering the risk of almost all types of cancers, with the exception of breast cancer and prostate cancer. For weekly or moderate intake of garlic, risk of renal and colorectal cancer is reduced.
In a case control study with 102 gastric cancer subjects, it was found that allium vegetables like garlic, onion and leek, helped in reducing risk of gastric cancer.
10. Weight loss
Most of the people these days want to lose weight which they have gained mainly due to a sedentary lifestyle. Lack of exercise along with junk food consumption is one of the key contributing factors of weight gain. Wouldn’t it be amazing if incorporating garlic in your meals or supplementing with it can help you lose weight!
In a recent study, mice were fed with a high fat diet for 8 weeks to make them obese. After this they were fed with the same diet with garlic supplementation of 2-5% for further 7 weeks. It was found that the body weight and fat deposits reduced in the mice. This is because garlic increases thermogenesis and thus helps in weight loss.
The mode of action is also said to be because the synthesis of lipids in the liver gets inhibited and there is a rise in the level of serum glucose. Both these factors lower serum glucose and increase the level of glycogen in the liver.
11. Enhances Physical Performance
Athletes use variety of substances to improve their performance on field. They try to stick to substances which are not banned, but yet are helpful in improving the results. Garlic has been known to be helpful since ancient cultures as a performance enhancer.
One of the most examined benefits of garlic in this context is that it helps in reducing fatigue. Although the mode of action is not very clear, it has been seen in various studies that administration of garlic as an anti-fatigue agent is quite beneficial. It can be physical or systemic fatigue.
It has also been found useful when administered to patients with coronary artery disease, by reducing the heart rate at peak exercise. Hence it can definitely be useful for athletes.
Some other Benefits & Uses of Garlic
– Garlic can help in improving the iron metabolism in the body, by production of ferroportin, which is a protein that allows iron to become readily available.
– Garlic mixed along with petroleum jelly and bees wax can be applied on the body to ward off mosquitoes.
– You can cover a splinter with garlic slice and keep it bandaged. The splinter will come off easily.
– Garlic can cause an increase in weight of the foetus in the womb
– Garlic can be used as treatment for hyperthyroidism, as it contains high level of iodine
How can you incorporate Garlic in your diet?
Most of the benefits of Garlic are attributed to the presence of Allicin. For getting the maximum amount of Allicin and its corresponding benefit, you should slice garlic and leave it for 10 – 15 minutes.
Raw garlic will have more effect as compared to the cooked one. You can toss it in to salad for the raw version. To reduce the pungency of garlic, you can cook it or have it along with other foods, which will help to mask the flavour.
The other forms in which garlic is consumed for medicinal or health purpose are:
– Garlic Oil: Garlic is infused in some form of vegetable oil and will not have as many beneficial compounds as essential for health benefits. However, it can be used for topical application, for hair loss or dandruff.
– Garlic Macerate: This is when ground garlic is mixed with oil and available in soft capsule forms. Since it is combined with oil, the fat content is very high and is not suitable for certain health conditions
– Garlic Powder: This is made from dried sliced garlic, which has been powdered. There is a debate whether garlic powder is effective because of the high temperatures it has been subjected to
– Aged Garlic Extract: Organically grown garlic is cleaned, sliced and stored in tanks containing ethanol for around 20 months, where the garlic gets aged and compounds get extracted as well. This type contains many mild and beneficial compounds which have high bioavailability.
Word of Caution
When it comes to availing benefits of garlic, people can go overboard when taking garlic as supplement and this can have detrimental effects on the body. It is important to know how much to take. It is recommended to take one garlic clove along with meals, so that would come to around 2-3 times in a day.
Bad breath is not the only downside to eating garlic. Taking higher quantity of raw garlic can result in causing heartburn, burning sensation in the mouth, throat and also cause upset stomach. Garlic allergies can cause very adverse reactions and hence should be taken with caution.
People who have bleeding disorders, ulcers, are taking anti-coagulants, anti-platelet medicines or are going to undergo any form of surgery should avoid taking garlic supplements. This is because they can prolong bleeding time. Like any other supplements, it is important that pregnant and lactating women should consult doctor before taking it.
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