The health benefits of garlic, or Allium sativum in botanical and scientific terms, are extensive and it one of nature’s culinary and medicinal wonders. This root vegetable has palate-pleasing qualities similar to herbs that enhance the flavor of any dish. In addition, it has natural ingredients that provide a variety of health-related benefits and treatment applications. Like some root vegetables under the genus Allium, garlic has a bulbous layer of fleshy leaves with roots growing at the underside and a stem flowering at the opposite end. Other vegetables belonging to the same genus, like the onion, chive, and Chinese scallion, share similar characteristics, including a strong odor and flavor that intensifies when the clove is crushed or chopped.
Basic Garlic Facts and History
Garlic is purported to have its origins in the Central Asian Region. The oldest recorded history extolling the benefits of this root vegetable dates back several thousands of years. The ancient Sanskrit texts of India, dating back to 5000 B.C., mentioned the health benefits of garlic. Other similar ancient civilizations in the Asian, European, and African continents are reported to have cultivated the root crop for food, medicinal, and even ritual purposes.
The Mediterranean region, in particular, has continued its age-old gastronomical tradition of utilizing garlic as a vegetable or herb ingredient, in order to acquire its healthful and flavorful benefits. In addition, the ancient Egyptians and other advanced civilizations also used its extractions to treat various wounds and infections, fully aware of the garlic’s antimicrobial and antibiotic properties.
Today, several hundred varieties of garlic are cultivated in different regions around the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the four major garlic-producing countries in 2005 consist of China, India, South Korea, and the United States. In the United States, the majority of domestic garlic farm production and product processing is centered in the state of California.
Garlic thrives in temperate climatic conditions. In tropical regions, garlic is often cultivated in higher locations where cooler temperatures promote production. In terms of soil condition, this root vegetable has a preference for loam or sandy loam, which has enough drainage capacity to hold the ideal amount of moisture required for crop growth.
Culinary Uses of Garlic
Garlic is now a staple vegetable in almost every kitchen. It is widely used in different cuisines as an ingredient and herb flavoring. The cloves are commonly used for cooking but other parts of the vegetable, including the flowers and immature bulb, are also used as a culinary ingredient. As a flavor enhancer, it is prepared and cooked with different types of meat, fish, and vegetables. In its uncooked form, the garlic may be added as a herb to certain sauces and condiments.
Garlic cloves and leaves are sautéed or stir fried with onion, ginger, and other vegetable or meat ingredients in the Southeast and other regions of Asia. In Spanish, Greek and other types of Mediterranean culinary traditions, garlic is often paired with staple ingredients such as onion, tomatoes, and olive oil to enhance the flavor of the dish. Garlic infused olive oil is also a popular addition to bread and pasta dishes. In the Valencia and Catalonia regions of Spain, garlic infused olive oil is mixed with egg yolk and mustard to produce aioli.
Medicinal and Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic is said to produce a variety of medicinal and health benefits. This root vegetable is reputed to facilitate cardio-vascular health due to its capacity to prevent hypertension, cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and other conditions. The component in the garlic which is responsible for this health benefit is allicin, a remarkable compound derived from alliin and allinase.
Although a standard dosage for garlic has not yet been established, some recommend a daily intake of one or two raw cloves per day to achieve the optimum benefit of this root vegetable. However, the strong compounds in the garlic could have an adverse effect on the gastrointestinal area, especially when eaten raw. Taking garlic supplements is an alternative and safe way to fulfill this requirement. The best supplements usually contain all the essential compounds without the strong garlicky odor.
Below are some of the health benefits of garlic:
1. Helps prevent bacterial infections
Garlic is a natural antibiotic. It has been shown to ward off the most common types of bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus. Health researchers have found that a person’s body can become resistant to antibiotics if he takes them for a long period of time. However, there has been no evidence to suggest that the body can become resistant to garlic.
2. Supports the immune system
Not only can garlic help prevent bacterial infections, but it can also help prevent fungal and viral infections. Garlic has been shown to boost the immune system. It is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium and selenium. Those nutrients help support immune system health.
3. Lowers blood pressure
High blood pressure is a health problem that affects approximately 25 percent of adults. If this condition is not treated, it can result in heart attacks and stroke. One of the health benefits of garlic may be in this area as studies have shown that people who take a garlic supplement can reduce their blood pressure by up to five percent. Additionally, garlic supplements may also lower a person’s risk of having a stroke by up to 40 percent.
4. Helps prevent blood clots from forming
Platelets are cell fragments that are responsible for forming blood clots. When a person develops a cut or a bruise, the platelets come together to prevent further bleeding. Platelets are important, but they can also cause clots to form in the arteries. Garlic helps prevent platelets from aggregating or coming together in the arteries. It can also help the body break up existing blood clots.
5. Reduces cholesterol level
High cholesterol affects nearly 40 percent of the adult population. High-density lipoprotein and low-density liprotein are the two different forms of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein causes plaque to build up in the arteries. High-density lipoprotein helps keep the arteries clean.Garlic has been shown to reduce LDL by up to 20 percent. It can also help raise HDL slightly.
6. Reduces free radicals in the body
Free radicals are compounds that are naturally present in the body. When these compounds begin to accumulate in the body, a number of health problems can result. Garlic acts as an antioxidant and can help reduce the number of free radicals in the body. This can help slow down the process of aging.
7. Reduces inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s response to a harmful stimulus. Even though inflammation plays an important role in helping the body fight infections, when this problem becomes chronic, it can cause heart disease, cancer and depression. Garlic helps reduce inflammation.
8. It may help prevent cancer
It is estimated that 30 percent of women and 50 percent of men will develop cancer at some point in their life. That is an alarming statistic, but the good news is that garlic may help prevent cancer. Studies have shown that people who consume garlic at least twice a week can reduce their risk of developing all types of cancer. Health experts believe that garlic helps prevent cancerous cells from growing.
9. Treats diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic condition that is caused by prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar. Insulin is the hormone that is responsible for regulating blood sugar. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot make or respond to insulin. Garlic can help treat diabetes by helping the body produce more insulin.
10. Helps one manage a healthy body weight
Obesity is a major health crisis that affects over 30 percent of the American population. There was a clinical study done on rats that measured garlic’s effect on weight gain. All of the rats were fed a high-sugar diet, but half of them were given garlic. The results of the study were that the rats who were fed garlic gained less weight. Researchers believe that garlic can have this same effect on humans.
Garlic can reduce the risk of several health conditions and improve a person’s overall health. Everyone should ask their doctor about adding a garlic supplement to their regime.
11. Heart Disease
Numerous clinical trials have shown that including garlic in the diet or taking a garlic supplement at 900mg per day and above can significantly reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure. Garlic also has blood thinning and anti-clotting actions and can reduce arterial plaque formation. All of these actions make garlic beneficial in protecting against heart disease.
The anti-fungal properties of garlic make it suitable for treating not only fungal skin infections but also internal fungal overgrowth such as Candida albicans.
Garlic contains multiple anticancer compounds and antioxidants. Garlic comes tops in the American National Cancer Institute’s list of potential cancer preventative foods. Eating garlic regularly reduces the risk of oesophageal, stomach, and colon cancer in particular.
14. Respiratory Conditions
Due to it being anti-catarrhal, anti-inflammatory decongestant and expectorant as well as anti-biotic, Garlic is useful in treating most conditions of the respiratory tract including bronchitis, sinusitis and hay fever.
Risks and Warnings
There are individuals that are garlic-intolerant and experience allergic reactions upon consumption. The allergy symptoms may be moderate to severe, depending on the intake and the tolerance level of the individual. Stomach aches, heartburn, and even flatulence may occur as an allergic or digestive reaction to the garlic. Over-consumption of uncooked garlic also produces similar effects.
As a dietary supplement, less is known about its contraindicative properties if taken with other types of medication. Although, medical advise on appropriate dosage and intake is recommended for individuals planning to take garlic supplements while on anti-coagulation or any cardiovascular treatment medicines.
Exposure to crushed garlic juice may also cause skin irritation characterized by a slight burning sensation and reddening of the area. The level of discomfort and severity of the irritation depends on the individual’s tolerance to the substance. In some moderate to severe cases, burning and blistering of the skin happens as a result of prolonged exposure to the garlic juice.
One of the marvels of the vegetable world, the health benefits of garlic can be enjoyed by including it in your essential store cupboard and goes well with many meats and vegetable dishes or via garlic extract supplements.