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Garlic is Nature’s Wonder Drug

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Photo: Garlic

In addition to repealing vampires and evil spirits, garlic is one of the oldest most used ingredients used by cultures around the world.

I share with you a little bit of the information I’ve found.

Origins and Historical use
Folk Medicine
Culinary uses
Health benefits
Negative effects / allergies

Origins and Historical use

Garlic was in use at the beginning of recorded history and was found in Egyptian pyramids and ancient Greek temples. There are Biblical references to garlic. Egyptian and Indian cultures referred to garlic 5000 years ago, and there is historical evidence for its use by the Babylonians 4500 years ago and by the Chinese 2000 years ago. During the time of the Pharaohs, when Egypt was a power, garlic was given to the laborers and slaves who were building the great pyramids in order to increase their stamina and strength as well as to protect them from disease. Even the Egyptian soldiers would consume garlic to increase their courage during battle. Garlic was given to the original Olympic athletes in Greece, as perhaps one of the earliest “performance enhancing” agents.

During medieval times, Garlic became available in Europe after the Roman legions moved north. Knowledge of the therapeutic use of garlic was gained and transmitted through the monks, and garlic was grown in the monasteries. Beyond its therapeutic and culinary use, garlic has found interesting use across the world. It was considered a protective plant against evil influences among the Indians, Scandinavians, Greeks and Germans, among others. In ancient Egypt, it was even used as currency. The sticky juice within the cloves was used as an adhesive in mending glass and porcelain in ancient China. Garlic was also used as an aphrodisiac when taken in wine with coriander.

Folk Medicine

Garlic is considered one of the oldest medicines in the world and is used in making remedies for various ailments and physiological disorders. Ancient medical texts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India prescribed medical applications for garlic. According to Ayurveda, garlic is one of the most effective antimicrobial herbs, as it has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anthelmintic and antiseptic properties. The Unani medicine describes garlic as carminative and as a gastric stimulant. It can aid in digestion and absorption of food and is also given in flatulence. The Talmud describes the consumption of garlic for the treatment of infection with parasites and other disorders.

Hippocrates, the revered physician, prescribed garlic for a variety of conditions. He advocated its use for pulmonary complaints, as a cleansing or purgative agent, and for abdominal growths, particularly uterine. Since ancient times, garlic has been used to ward off bug bites, especially mosquitoes and ticks. Those who ate garlic produced perspiration that the insects couldn’t stand. Even animals infested by ticks were given garlic, and in about half an hour, all of the bugs would be gone.

Ancient Roman medicine, besides using garlic for gastrointestinal and animal bites, also used it for alleviation of joint diseases and seizures. In ancient Chinese medicine, garlic was prescribed to aid respiration and digestion, most importantly diarrhea and worm infestation. Evidence also suggests that garlic was utilized to treat sadness or depression as well. Fatigue, headache and insomnia were often treated with garlic. There are also indications that garlic was used to treat and improve male potency. Herbalists who practiced prior to vaccines used garlic to ward off polio. Some cultures used it as treatment for arthritis, leprosy and tuberculosis. Louis Pasteur observed garlic’s antibacterial activity, and it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II.

Culinary uses

The best estimate is that by or before 2000 BC, garlic was in wide use in China and formed part of the daily diet, particularly when consumed together with raw meat. Garlic is widely used around the world for its pungent flavor as a seasoning or condiment. It is a fundamental component in many or most dishes of various regions, including eastern Asia, south Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa, southern Europe, and parts of South and Central America. The flavour varies in intensity and aroma with the different cooking methods. It is often paired with onion, tomato, or ginger.

Garlic may be applied to breads to create a variety of classic dishes such as garlic bread, garlic toast, bruschetta, crostini and canapé. Oils can be flavored with garlic cloves. These infused oils are used to season all categories of vegetables, meats, breads and pasta. In some cuisine, the young garlic bulbs are pickled for 3–6 weeks in a mixture of sugar, salt, and spices. In Eastern Europe, the shoots are pickled and eaten as an appetizer. In Korea, heads of garlic are fermented at high temperature; the resulting product, called black garlic, is sweet and syrupy. Garlic shoots are a versatile and nutritious culinary treasure that is valued in Korean, Chinese, Thai, Polynesian, and coastal French cuisine. They are often used in stir frying, or braised like asparagus. Garlic shoots can also be pickled and added to homemade flavored vinegars. Garlic leaves are a popular vegetable in many parts of Asia. The leaves are cut, cleaned, and then stir-fried with eggs, meat, or vegetables.

Health benefits

Garlic is nature’s wonder drug. Garlic contains hundreds of minerals and nutrients. Today, after close to 6000 years of folklore, scientific research shows that garlic is an amazing resource of phytochemicals whose wide range of actions can benefit health. Studies show that garlic protects against infection and inflammation, lowers the risk of heart disease, and has anticancer and anti-aging effects. Multiple scientific studies indicate that garlic can lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels, improve the outcome of coronary heart disease, reduce high blood pressure, improve claudication (leg muscle cramps on exertion), prolong infant feeding time for breast nursing, reduce or cure the fungal infection of Athlete’s foot, and reverse some middle ear inflammation.

It is believed that garlic may have some value in the potential reductions of certain cancers, especially those of the colon and the stomach. When crushed, garlic yields allicin, an antibiotic and antifungal compound. It also contains the sulfur containing compounds alliin, ajoene, diallylsulfide, dithiin, S-allylcysteine, and enzymes, vitamin B, proteins, minerals, saponins, flavonoids, and maillard reaction products, which are non-sulfur containing compounds. There is also a phytoalexin called allixin, a non-sulfur compound with anti-oxidative, anti-microbial, anti-tumor promoting, and neurotrophic effects. Garlic is also alleged to help regulate blood sugar levels. Regular and prolonged use of therapeutic amounts of aged garlic extracts lower blood homocysteine levels and has shown to prevent some complications of diabetes mellitus. Garlic has been found to enhance thiamin absorption and therefore reduce the likelihood for developing the thiamin deficiency beriberi. It was found that garlic is an effective way to prevent scurvy, because of its high vitamin C content.


Modern science is tending to confirm many of the beliefs of ancient cultures regarding garlic, defining mechanisms of action and exploring garlic’s potential for disease prevention and treatment. It is of interest that cultures that developed without contact with one another came to similar conclusions about the efficacy of garlic. Contemporary research is tending to validate many of the earlier views concerning the efficacy of garlic.

Antimicrobial mechanisms:2 Allicin, an active principle of freshly crushed garlic homogenates, has a variety of antimicrobial activities. Allicin in its pure form was found to exhibit i) antibacterial activity against a wide range of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, including multidrug-resistant enterotoxicogenic strains of Escherichia coli; ii) antifungal activity, particularly against Candida albicans; iii) antiparasitic activity, including some major human intestinal protozoan parasites such as Entamoeba histolytica and Giardia lamblia; and iv) antiviral activity. The main antimicrobial effect of allicin is due to its chemical reaction with thiol groups of various enzymes, e.g. alcohol dehydrogenase, thioredoxin reductase, and RNA polymerase, which can affect essential metabolism of cysteine proteinase activity involved in the virulence of E. Histolytica.

Antibacterial:3 Research has shown the inhibitory effect of allicin, an active component of garlic, against streptococcal diseases. Streptolysin O (SLO) is a potent cytolytic toxin produced by almost all strains of group-A streptococci and is considered an important virulence factor for this organism. Research was undertaken to investigate the effect of allicin and aqueous garlic extracts on the haemolytic activity of SLO. All tested materials potentially inhibited the SLO haemolytic activity. Allicin neutralized SLO in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Allicin likely inhibits the SLO by binding to the cysteine residue in the binding site. These results indicate allicin may be a potential alternative drug against streptococcal diseases.

Antioxidant mechanisms:4,6 Oxidative modification of DNA, proteins and lipids by reactive oxygen species (ROS) plays a role in aging and disease, including cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and inflammatory diseases and cancer. Extracts of fresh garlic that are aged over a prolonged period to produce aged garlic extract (AGE) contain antioxidant phytochemicals that prevent oxidant damage. These include unique water-soluble organosulfur compounds, lipid-soluble organosulfur components and flavonoids, notably allixin and selenium. Long-term extraction of garlic (up to 20 mo) ages the extract, creating antioxidant properties by modifying unstable molecules with antioxidant activity, such as allicin, and increasing stable and highly bioavailable water-soluble organosulfur compounds, such as S:-allylcysteine and S:-allylmercaptocysteine.

AGE exerts antioxidant action by scavenging ROS, enhancing the cellular antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase, and increasing glutathione in the cells. AGE inhibits lipid peroxidation, reducing ischemic/reperfusion damage and inhibiting oxidative modification of LDL, thus protecting endothelial cells from the injury by the oxidized molecules, which contributes to atherosclerosis. AGE inhibits the activation of the oxidant-induced transcription factor, nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB, which has clinical significance in human immunodeficiency virus gene expression and atherogenesis. AGE protects DNA against free radical-mediated damage and mutations, inhibits multistep carcinogenesis and defends against ionizing radiation and UV-induced damage, including protection against some forms of UV-induced immune-suppression.

AGE may have a role in protecting against loss of brain function in aging and possess other anti-aging effects, as suggested by its ability to increase cognitive functions, memory and longevity in a senescence-accelerated mouse model. AGE has been shown to protect against the cardiotoxic effects of doxorubicin, an antineoplastic agent used in cancer therapy and against liver toxicity caused by carbon tetrachloride (an industrial chemical) and acetaminophen, an analgesic. Substantial experimental evidence shows the ability of AGE to protect against oxidant-induced disease, acute damage from aging, radiation and chemical exposure, and long-term toxic damage.

Cardiovascular:9 Lowers serum lipid and cholesterol levels and improves the ratio of high density (beneficial) to low density (harmful) blood lipids; reduces platelet aggregation; lowers blood pressure; slows the oxidation of blood fats (oxidized blood fats increase the risk of heart disease). Hypercholesterolemia is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis, and lowering cholesterol can significantly reduce the risk for cardiovascular diseases. Oxidation of LDL has recently been recognized as playing an important role in the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis. Oxidized LDL, promotes vascular dysfunction by exerting direct cytotoxicity to endothelial cells, by increasing chemotactic properties of monocytes, by transforming macrophages to foam cells, and by enhancing the proliferation of endothelial cells, monocytes, and muscle cells. All these events are recognized as contributors to cardiovascular diseases. Short-term supplementation of garlic has demonstrated an increased resistance of LDL to oxidation. These data suggest that suppressed LDL oxidation may be one of the mechanisms that accounts for the beneficial effects of garlic in cardiovascular health.

Hypertension:5 Research was conducted to assess the effect, tolerability and acceptability of AGE as an adjunct treatment to existing antihypertensive medication in patients with treated, but uncontrolled, hypertension. A double-blind parallel randomised placebo-controlled trial involving 50 patients whose routine clinical records in general practice documented treated but uncontrolled hypertension. The active treatment group received four capsules of AGE (960 mg containing 2.4 mg S-allylcysteine) daily for 12 weeks, and the control group received matching placebos. The primary outcome measures were systolic and diastolic blood pressure at baseline, 4, 8 and 12 weeks, and changed over time. It was observed that in patients with uncontrolled hypertension, systolic blood pressure was on average .2±4.3 mmHg (p=0.03) lower in the garlic group over the 12-week treatment period. AGE was generally well tolerated and acceptability of trial treatment was high (92%).

Anticancer mechanisms:7,8 Current anticancer research is focused on diallyl sulfides, breakdown products of allicin that are present in garlic oils. It has been found that diallyl sulphides lowers the risk of stomach and colon cancer; may inhibit tumor formation and protect against damage from radiation and chemotherapy. The anticancer activity of the diallyl sulfides was primarily examined using human colon cancer cells HCT-15 and DLD-1. The growth of the cells was significantly suppressed by diallyl trisulfide, but neither diallyl monosulfide nor diallyl disulfide showed such an effect. The number of cells arrested at G2/M phase, the cells with a sub-G1 DNA content, and the cells with caspase-3 activity were dramatically increased by diallyl trisulfide treatment.

Negative effects / allergies

Garlic is considered to have very low toxicity and is listed as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. FDA. Side effects from garlic include upset stomach, bloating, bad breath, body odor, and a stinging sensation on the skin from handling too much fresh or dried garlic. Handling garlic may also cause skin lesions. Other, more rare side effects that have been reported by those taking garlic supplements include headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches, dizziness described as vertigo (dizziness), and allergies such as an asthmatic reaction or contact dermatitis (skin rash).

Special precautions and warnings: Garlic may alter the function of certain prescription medications. Consult your physician before using garlic supplements, if you are taking any of these prescriptions.

Antiplatelet medications: Garlic may exaggerate the activity of medications that inhibit the action of platelets in the body; e.g., indomethacin, dipyridamole, Plavix, aspirin. Blood-thinning medications: Garlic may increase the risk of bleeding in people taking blood-thinning medication like aspirin, warfarin etc. Protease inhibitors: Garlic may reduce the activity of protease inhibitors, a medication used to treat people with HIV. Protease inhibitors include indinavir, ritinavir, saquinavir etc.

Garlic has blood-thinning properties. This is also important to know if you are going to have surgery or deliver a baby. Too much garlic can increase your risk for bleeding during or after those procedures.


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