Recent findings on the power of garlic to fight cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, give garlic the bona fide characteristics to elevate it to Superfood status.
Throughout the history of civilization, the medicinal properties of garlic have been prized, and it’s been used to treat an array of ailments, including atherosclerosis, stroke, cancer, immune disorders, cerebral aging, arthritis, and cataract formation.
Garlic’s power as a heath promoter comes from its rich variety of sulfur containing compounds. Of the nearly one hundred nutrients in garlic, the most important in terms of health benefits seems to be the sulfur compound allicin-an amino acid. Allicin is not present in fresh garlic. It’s formed instantly when cloves are crushed, chewed, or cut. Allicin seems to be responsible for the super-biological activity of garlic as well as its odor.
In addition to allicin, a single clove of garlic offers a slew of compounds with potential health benefits, including saponins, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, polyphenols, and arginine. In addition to these compounds, garlic is a good source of vitamin B6 and also of vitamin C. As with most whole foods, garlic’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities are probably due to the sum of the whole rather than a single agent.
A number of studies have shown that garlic has an important impact on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It has been demonstrated that those who make garlic a regular part of their diets enjoy lowered blood pressure and decreased platelet aggregation, as well as decreased triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Garlic also may increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Consuming one half to one clove of garlic daily lowers LDL cholesterol levels by approximately 10 percent, partially by decreasing cholesterol absorption.
Garlic extracts have also been shown to decrease blood pressure. In one study, a 5.5 percent decrease in systolic blood pressure and a slight decrease in diastolic pressure were noticed. While these are modest decreases, they could still lead to a significant lessening of the risk for stroke and heart attack. The end result of all of these benefits is a lowered risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease as well as a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. Garlic oil has been shown to decrease total and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well.
Garlic’s primary positive effect on cardiovascular disease comes from its sulphur compounds, but the effects of vitamin C, B6, selenium, and manganese can’t be ignored. Garlic’s vitamin C-the body’s primary antioxidant defender-protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation. It’s the oxidation of LDL cholesterol that begins the process that damages blood vessel walls. Vitamin B lowers levels of homocysteine, a substance that can directly damage blood vessel walls. The selenium in garlic fights heart disease, while it also works to protect against cancer and heavy metal toxicity. Manganese works on a variety of antioxidant defences, and studies have found that adults deficient in manganese have lower levels of the “good,” or HDL, cholesterol.
A number of studies have reported on garlic’s ability to fight cancer, although further research is needed to clarify the precise role of garlic in this battle. Several population studies have shown a link between garlic in the diet and a decrease in the risk for colorectal and gastric cancer, and one clove of garlic daily may decrease the risk of developing prostate cancer. Recent reviews of more than thirty-five studies report some protective effect against cancer in about 75 percent of the published articles.
Two recent studies have shown that garlic can be a potent antibiotic. Particularly impressive was that garlic was effective against strains of pathogens that have become resistant to many drugs. One study demonstrated that garlic juice showed significant antibacterial activity against a host of pathogens, even including antibiotic-resistant strains such as ciprofloxacin-resistant staphylococci.
The second study, conducted on mice, found that garlic was able to inhibit a type of staph infection that’s become increasingly resistant to antibiotics and increasingly common in hospitals. This type of staph infection has become a potential danger for health care workers, as well as for people with weakened immune systems. Sixteen hours after the mice were infected with the pathogen, garlic extract was fed to them. After twenty-four hours, garlic was found to have provided protection against the pathogen and to have significantly decreased the infection.