The Wonders of Garlic for Immune Health & More
Garlic may or may not ward off vampires, but it has some pretty serious health benefits that will make you want to always have some on hand.
Throughout the years, garlic has seen a lot of use for medicinal purposes. Hippocrates (often called the father of medicine) favored using it all the way back in 400 BC, and it continues to be one of the most popular herbal supplements today.
Here are the top ways you can use garlic for health benefits and how to get the most out of this pungent herb.
The Backstory on Garlic
You could refer to garlic many different ways: flavorful spice, medicinal herb, stinky vegetable. This just goes to show that garlic is very versatile and doesn't just have one main use.
Botanically speaking, garlic (Allium sativum) is a vegetable closely related to onions, leeks, and chives. It grows from individual cloves planted in the ground and slowly forms bulbs that can be harvested.
It's hard to pinpoint the date when garlic was first cultivated, but it could have been as long as 7000 years ago. Nearly all if the major civilizations- Egypt, Greece, Rome, Babylon, China- have documented use of garlic, which is impressive.
Even though garlic is one of the most popular food flavorings, it has likely always been used medicinally as well. Indigestion, fatigue, parasites, and lung conditions are just a few of the problems it has been used to address.
Nutritionally speaking, garlic contains a lot of nutrients (nearly a little bit of everything, in fact), although most of them are present only in trace amounts. It also contains a powerful compound known as allicin, which is a major contributor to most of its health benefits. (1)
Top Ways to Use Garlic for Health Benefits
Boost Your Immune System
One of the most powerful aspects of garlic is that it can enhance immune function and help your body fend off sickness. It's one of the main ingredients in fire cider, which is an immune-boosting tonic.
Some studies have shown that taking a garlic supplement daily can reduce your risk of getting a cold. Garlic also seems to shorten the duration of a cold (and possibly the flu). (2)(3)
Overall, it's not a bad idea to eat more garlic during cold and flu season.
Fight Certain Infections
Garlic has strong antimicrobial properties that give it power against certain types of infections. Not only can it fight the viruses that cause colds and flu, it also acts as a powerful antibacterial agent.
As an example, one study found that a certain compound in garlic known as diallyl sulfide was a hundred times more effective at fighting Campylobacter than two antibiotics. This is a type of bacteria that often causes food poisoning. (4)
Herbalists also frequently use garlic-infused oil to address ear infections (but not the type caused by water, like swimmer's ear).
Kickstart a Sluggish Digestion
Another way to use garlic for health benefits is as a digestive aid.
If you've even eaten a large amount of garlic (especially raw) you know that it has a lot of heat to it. This heat, along with some helpful plant compounds, can help get your digestion going if it's slow and help your body digest better.
In fact, in Ayurvedic medicine, garlic is one herb that's used to ignite the digestive fire.
The exception to all of this is if you already have too much heat in your system or are sensitive to garlic. In this case, it may make your digestion feel worse.
Potential Heart Helper
Eating garlic regularly can benefit your heart because it has shown an ability to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol- two key factors involved in heart health.
Studies have shown that garlic supplements (including aged garlic extract) can moderately reduce blood pressure in those with hypertension. One even found that garlic was comparable to a common blood pressure medication, atenolol, which is quite significant! (5)(6)
Garlic also has positive effects on cholesterol, lowering both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in several studies. (7)
Help Regulate Your Blood Sugar
There are many herbs for diabetes support, and garlic may be able to help as well by lowering blood sugar levels. Some animal studies also suggest that garlic may further help those with type 2 diabetes avoid complications that can arise from the disease, although more research is still needed. (8)(9)
Protect Your Brain
The specific antioxidants in garlic are proving to have special benefits for protecting brain health. This is important because age-related brain disorders are on the rise.
Most types of antioxidants have some protective properties for brain health, but the ones in garlic seem to be especially powerful and significantly neuroprotective. Some researchers even think that aged garlic extract may be powerful enough to use in future drug development for Alzheimer's disease. (10)
In the meantime, just eating garlic regularly may give your brain an extra antioxidant boost.
Potential Cancer Fighter
The sulfur compounds in garlic (and onions) are believed to have cancer-fighting properties. Different forms of garlic- and even consuming a large amount Allium vegetables- has been linked to a lower risk of certain cancers like prostate, lung, ovarian, colon, and stomach cancer. (11)
Garlic has been used for many years as a natural galactagogue, which means a substance that boosts milk production. In general, it's safe for you to eat garlic while breastfeeding to see if it boosts your milk supply. However, some infants react to garlic in breastmilk, in which case your should stop eating it.
How to Use Garlic for the Most Health Benefits
Many garlic benefits are related to the compound allicin, which only gets created if garlic cloves are chopped or crushed. One of the best ways to get it is by chewing on raw garlic, although that's not for the faint of heart.
If raw garlic isn't your thing, you can also try an aged garlic supplement or a garlic extract. Or be sure to crush or chop garlic before lightly cooking it. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before you begin the cooking process.
In general, there are no "side effects" associated with garlic, although in large amounts it may interact with certain medications like blood thinners.
The main thing to keep in mind is the heat that garlic contains. If you already have too much heat in your body, garlic may make some of your symptoms worse and is not the right herb for everyone. If it causes an upset digestion, decrease or stop your consumption of it.
Usually, you should avoid giving children large amounts of garlic (particularly raw).
Enjoy the Firepower of Garlic
Garlic packs in a lot of flavor and is also a powerful health-boosting herb. Use it to fire up your immune system and digestion or consume it on a regular basis to benefit from its antioxidant content!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.
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