Garlic is an herb. It is best known as a flavoring for food. But over the years, garlic has been used as a medicine to prevent or treat a wide range of diseases and conditions. The fresh clove or supplements made from the clove are used for medicine.
Garlic is used for many conditions related to the heart and blood system. These conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, heart attack, and “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis). Some of these uses are supported by science. Garlic actually may be effective in slowing the development of atherosclerosis and seems to be able to modestly reduce blood pressure.
Some people use garlic to prevent colon cancer, rectal cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. It is also used to treat prostate cancer and bladder cancer.
Garlic has been tried for treating an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia; BPH), diabetes, osteoarthritis, hayfever (allergic rhinitis), traveler's diarrhea, high blood pressure late in pregnancy (pre-eclampsia), cold and flu. It is also used for building the immune system, preventing tick bites, and preventing and treating bacterial and fungal infections.
Other uses include treatment of fever, coughs, headache, stomach ache, sinus congestion, gout, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, asthma, bronchitis, shortness of breath, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, high blood sugar, and snakebites. It is also used for fighting stress and fatigue, and maintaining healthy liver function.
Some people apply garlic oil to their skin to treat fungal infections, warts, and corns. There is some evidence supporting the topical use of garlic for fungal infections like ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot; but the effectiveness of garlic against warts and corns is still uncertain.
There is a lot of variation among garlic products sold for medicinal purposes. The amount of allicin, the active ingredient and the source of garlic’s distinctive odor, depends on the method of preparation. Allicin is unstable, and changes into a different chemical rather quickly. Some manufacturers take advantage of this by aging garlic to make it odorless. Unfortunately, this also reduces the amount of allicin and compromises the effectiveness of the product. Some odorless garlic preparations and products may contain very little, if any, allicin. Methods that involve crushing the fresh clove release more allicin. Some products have a coating (enteric coating) to protect them against attack by stomach acids.
While garlic is a common flavoring in food, some scientists have suggested that it might have a role as a food additive to prevent food poisoning. There is some evidence that fresh garlic, but not aged garlic, can kill certain bacteria such as E. coli, antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella enteritidis in the laboratory.
How does it work?
Garlic produces a chemical called allicin. This is what seems to make garlic work for certain conditions. Allicin also makes garlic smell. Some products are made “odorless” by aging the garlic, but this process can also make the garlic less effective. It’s a good idea to look for supplements that are coated (enteric coating) so they will dissolve in the intestine and not in the stomach.
Helps treat viral diseases: The positive impact of garlic in the treatment of colds and viral infections is caused by the component called, allicin. This helps stop the formation of enzymes which lead to penetration of viruses in our body. The effectiveness of garlic in the treatment of viral diseases is only slightly inferior to antibiotics.
Helps the body’s immune system: Garlic includes protein that contributes to the production of antibodies which protect the body from adverse impacts.
Antibacterial properties: The antibacterial properties of garlic are caused by phytoncides. Phytoncides garlic prevents the growth of bacteria, is toxic for yeast fungi, is toxic for staphylococci, is toxic for diphtheria bacilli, and it destroys pathogens of dysentery.
Lowers cholesterol: The aforementioned allicin reduces levels of bad cholesterol in blood, preventing the emergence of atherosclerotic plaques. However, garlic just starts the process! The benefits of garlic in lowering cholesterol are observed within the first few months and then the cholesterol level rises again to its previous state. Therefore, garlic can be used for a short-term course of purification of the blood vessels, but is not able to keep the cholesterol level low for a long time. That’s why garlic should not be regarded as an alternative to other methods when struggling with elevated cholesterol, the main one being choosing a healthy way of life and, in particular, the proper food.
Beneficial for the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases: The treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases by garlic is related, in particular, to its ability to reduce the level of bad cholesterol, although that benefit is short-lived. Apart from that, garlic is useful against high blood pressure: it dilates blood vessels, helping to reduce high blood pressure. Garlic can help prevent heart attack and stroke. Active substance, Ajo, which is present in garlic, reduces blood viscosity and prevents platelet aggregation, which significantly reduces the chance of blood clots. More recent studies show the ability of garlic to prevent or slow down the formation of blood clots in blood vessels. Namely, clots cause heart attacks and strokes; thus, garlic lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke.