Love it or hate it (particularly if you’re a vampire), eating garlic can be great for your health. Its’ benefits are backed up by a huge number of research papers; in fact, almost more research than any other medicinal plant and it’s recognition as a therapeutic herb goes back more than 5000 years. Indeed, both Hippocrates and Aristotle cite it as having numerous therapeutic uses.
Not only is it nutritionally robust, being high in vitamin B6, a good source of vitamin C, manganese and selenium and containing other minerals such as calcium, iron and copper, it also holds highly beneficial sulphur containing compounds such as allicin, alliin, and ajoene, which may promote health in the following ways:
It may increase antioxidant activity
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…thereby protecting cells from oxidation and according to ongoing research may even reduce tumour growth and lower the risk of a number of cancers including colon, stomach and pancreatic.
It can be a potent antibacterial and antifungal agent due to its sulphur compound called ajoene. Ajoene prevents bacteria from forming ‘biofilms’, protective shields that cause resistance to antimicrobial treatment, thereby allowing the bacteria to be acted upon by therapeutic agents.
Benefits the cardiovascular system by reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, a condition where arteries become clogged up with fatty plaques, which can eventually lead to a heart attack, stroke, angina or dementia. It is believed that allicin reduces LDL cholesterol accumulation in the arteries.
Garlic can also reduce total cholesterol levels by interfering with cholesterol production in the liver, whilst also increasing HDL cholesterol levels.
It is widely prescribed for blood pressure reduction and has a wide evidence base to support this. It possibly does this by inhibiting an enzyme involved in increasing blood pressure or by increasing nitric oxide production, a molecule produced by the body which at low levels can induce high blood pressure.
This is all pretty impressive, to say the least. However, what if you’re one of the many individuals who are susceptible to a stomach upset after eating it, particularly in high amounts? Well, there are several good garlic supplements available which disintegrate in the small intestine rather than the stomach, thereby reducing gastric irritation.
Having it in supplement form can also mean it stays fresher for longer, is more concentrated and has a minimal odour, a benefit that could lower your risk of being a little unpopular with your friends.
If you’re using it fresh then it does need to be chopped or crushed to derive full benefit from it. This is because allicin isn’t found in garlic when whole and is actually formed when one of the other compounds, alliin, reacts with an enzyme found in the garlic called alliinase. The only way of bringing alliin and alliinase together is by injuring the garlic clove. Allicin then in turn produces the other sulphur compounds such as the remarkable ajoene.
Used widely throughout the world as a culinary staple, it is great in houmous, salad dressings, stuffed into pitted olives or simply added to sauces. Just remember to keep it fresh in a slightly open container in a dark cupboard, away from extreme temperatures, and like vampires, sunlight.