“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Those are the words from the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, often called the father of Western medicine. He actually used to prescribe garlic for treatment of a variety of medical conditions.

Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and Allium chinense.  It grows in many parts of the world and is a popular ingredient in cooking due to its strong smell and delicious taste.

Peeled Garlic

Although Garlic is considered as a healthy herb, it also has some side effects especially when eating raw which includes: unpleasant breath or body odor; heartburn, burning in your mouth or throat; nausea, vomiting, gas or diarrhea. Garlic can also increase the risk of bleeding.

Garlic comes in several forms, from whole cloves and smooth pastes to powders and supplements like garlic extract and garlic oil. The minimum effective dose for therapeutic effects is one clove eaten with meals, two or three times a day.

If you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinning medications, then talk to your doctor before increasing your garlic consumption. The active compound allicin only forms when garlic is crushed or cleaved when it is raw. If you cook it before crushing it, then it won’t have the same health effects.

Therefore, the best way to consume garlic is raw, or to crush and cut it and leave it out for a while before you add it to your recipes.

When taken in high quantity, it may result in diarrhea, according to NYU Langone Medical Center.

Studies conducted shows that there are significant low blood pressure effects from dried garlic releasing allicin at 1.8mg per dose.

However, throughout ancient history, the main use of garlic was for its health and medicinal properties.

Garlic is highly nutritious, but has very few calories. It comes with 42 calories, with 1.8 grams of protein and 9 grams of carbs. Garlic is low in calories and very rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Manganese. It also contains trace amounts of various other nutrients.

Garlic can combat sickness, including the common cold. Garlic supplementation is known to boost the function of the immune system.

Study shows that a daily garlic supplement reduced the number of colds by 63% compared with placebo. The average length of cold symptoms was also reduced by 70%, from 5 days in placebo to just 1.5 days in the garlic group.

Another study found that a high dose of garlic extract (2.56 grams per day) can reduce the number of days sick with cold or flu by 61%. If you often get colds, then adding garlic to your diet could be incredibly helpful.

– Garlic supplementation helps to prevent and reduce the severity of common illnesses like the flu and common cold.

The active compounds in Garlic can reduce Blood Pressure. Cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes, the world’s biggest killers. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most important drivers of these diseases.

Human studies have found garlic supplementation to have a significant impact on reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure (6, 7, 8).

High doses of garlic appear to improve blood pressure of those with known high blood pressure (hypertension). In some instances, supplementation can be as effective as regular medications.

– Garlic improves cholesterol levels, which may lower the risk of heart disease. Garlic can lower Total and LDL cholesterol. For those with high cholesterol, garlic supplementation appears to reduce total and/or LDL cholesterol by about 10-15% (10, 11, 12).

– Garlic may help you live longer. The effects on longevity are basically impossible to prove in humans but given the beneficial effects on important risk factors like blood pressure, it makes sense that garlic could help you live longer.

The fact that it can fight infectious disease is also an important factor, because these are common causes of death, especially in the elderly or people with dysfunctional immune systems.

– Athletic performance can be improved with garlic supplementation. Garlic was one of the earliest “performance enhancing” substances. It was traditionally used in ancient cultures to reduce fatigue and enhance the work capacity of labourers. Most notably, it was administered to Olympic athletes in ancient Greece.

– Eating Garlic can help detoxify heavy metals in the body. At high doses, the sulfur compounds in garlic have been shown to protect against organ damage from heavy metal toxicity.

A four week study in employees of a car battery plant (excessive exposure to lead) found that garlic reduced lead levels in the blood by 19%. It also reduced many clinical signs of toxicity, including headaches and blood pressure.

– Garlic may improve Bone Health. No human trials have measured the effects of garlic on bone loss. However, rodent studies have shown that it can minimise bone loss by increasing estrogen in females (23, 24, 25, 26).

–  One study in menopausal women found that a daily dose of dry garlic extract (equal to 2 grams of raw garlic) significantly decreased a marker of estrogen deficiency. This suggests that this garlic may have beneficial effects on bone health in women.

Foods like garlic and onions have also been shown to have beneficial effects on osteoarthritis. Garlic appears to have some benefits for bone health by increasing estrogen levels in females, but more human studies are needed.

– Garlic is easy to include in your diet and tastes absolutely delicious. It complements most savory dishes, particularly soups and sauces. The strong taste of garlic can also add a punch to otherwise bland recipes.

Garlic helps keep bacterial and viral infections at bay

Due to its innate compounds, garlic can help keep both bacterial and viral infections at bay. They help control bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast and worm infections. Fresh garlic is thought to play a role in preventing food poisoning by killing bacteria.

Since it has both antibacterial and antiviral properties, garlic is great when it comes to treating skin infections. The chemical ajoene found in garlic may help treat fungal skin infections like ringworm and athlete’s foot.

If you have a skin infection, you could apply the juice of crushed garlic cloves on the area once or twice a day. Wash the juice off with some clean, room temperature water.

Helps prevent the formation of clots in the body

The anti-clotting properties of ajoene found in garlic help in preventing the formation of blood clots in the body. While this fact is great for people with heart ailments and those prone to suffering from a stroke and other clotting disorders.

With age, your arteries tend to lose their ability to stretch and garlic can help maintain their elasticity. It also helps protect the heart from the damaging effects of free oxygen radicals. The sulphur-containing compounds of garlic also prevent our blood vessels from becoming blocked and slow the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

It can also protect you against frequent colds and bouts of sore throat. Its antibacterial properties help in treating throat irritations. Garlic may also reduce the severity of upper respiratory tract infections.       Its ability to promote expectoration makes it irreplaceable in chronic bronchitis. It helps keep your blood sugar levels in check.

Garlic increases insulin release and regulates blood sugar levels in your body, especially if you are a diabetic.

It also helps keep cancer at bay. Garlic’s anti-cancer properties are due to the allyl sulphides it contains. According to studies, diallyl sulphide found in garlic inhibits the transformation of PhIP (a type of compound that has been associated with increased incidence of breast cancer) into carcinogens.

It can give your sex life a much needed boost. Garlic’s aphrodisiac properties which is due to its ability to increase the circulation and intensifying an orgasm.

Helps relieve pain caused due to a toothache. It can help relieve toothaches due to its antibacterial and analgesic properties. But be aware that it can be irritating to the gum

Can help you lose weight. According to recent research, garlic may help to regulate the formation of fat cells in our body by converting pre-adipocytes to fat cells (adipocytes) by preventing the conversion.

By Joe Leech, Dietitian, Dr Anitha Anchan and Jo Lewin – Associate nutritionist.

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