Garlic is one of the most important culinary herbs there is, but it’s also one that’s a proven health tonic. Eating a clove or two of garlic a day really might keep the doctor away, as it benefits health on multiple levels.
Interestingly, while garlic is often described as an herb or a spice, it’s actually neither. Garlic grows underground in a bulb and sprouts long green shoots. It is more accurate to call garlic a vegetable than an herb, and, in fact, it belongs to the allium family of vegetables, along with onions and leeks.
This is where its health benefits begin, because allium vegetables are known for their stink (and garlic is sometimes referred to as “the stinking rose”). That unique scent comes from sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin, that have many health-promoting effects.
Garlic Fights 160 Diseases, Including Cancer
Studies have demonstrated garlic's effects for more than 160 different diseases.1 In general, its benefits fall into four main categories:
- Reducing inflammation (reduces risk of osteoarthritis and other diseases associated with inflammation)
- Boosting immune function (antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic properties)
- Improving cardiovascular health and circulation (protects against clotting, retards plaque, improves lipids, and reduces blood pressure)
- Toxic to 14 kinds of cancer cells (including brain, lung, breast, gastric, and pancreatic)
In terms of cancer, garlic has been shown to kill cancer cells in laboratory studies, as well as shown promise when consumed via your diet. One study showed that women who regularly ate garlic (along with fruits and vegetables) had a 35 percent lower risk of colon cancer.2
Those who consume high amounts of raw garlic also appear to have a lower risk of stomach and colorectal cancers.3
Furthermore, among people with inoperable forms of colorectal, liver, or pancreatic cancer, taking an extract of aged garlic for six months helped to improve immune function, which suggests it may be useful for helping your immune system during times of stress or illness.4
Also worth noting, diallyl sulfide (DAS), a sulfur-containing compound in garlic, has been found to inhibit the formation of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which form when meat is cooked at high temperatures.5
DAS prevents a specific type of HCA from transforming into DNA-damaging compounds by decreasing the production of certain liver enzymes required for this transformation.
What this means is that adding chopped garlic to your burgers, meat loaf, and possibly to your steak via a marinade may help cut down on cancer-causing cooking byproducts.
Immune-Boosting Effects to Fight Infectious Disease (Even Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria)
Garlic is known for its powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties. It also helps fight infection from yeasts/fungi and worms.
The combination of biochemicals in garlic, including tannins, saponins, phenols, flavonoids, and essential oils, has even been found to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some of the superbugs killed by garlic were resistant to more than 10 different antibiotics.6
Even more intriguing, the garlic used in the study was whole, simply ground with a mortar and pestle, and the researchers recommended adding garlic to your diet as a way to help prevent infections. According to researchers:7
“…use of spices (garlic/ginger) in diet can reduce the risk of food contamination, protect the consumer from different foodborne diseases, improve their health status and combat with the foodborne diseases by using small quantity of spices (garlic/ginger) in diet
…it is recommended to use garlic …in different raw forms like pickle, garlic/ginger bread, curry powder, sauces, raw juices and without extensive cooking.
In conclusion, the results of present study have provided the justification for therapeutic potential of spices. The practice of using spices as supplementary or alternative medicine… will not reduce only the clinical burden of drug resistance development but also the side effects and cost of the treatment with allopathic medicine.”
Eating garlic can also help fight off infections from colds and flu. According to one study, those who consumed garlic daily for three months had fewer colds than those who took a placebo.
When they did come down with a cold, the duration of illness was shorter – an average of 4.5 days compared to 5.5 days for the placebo group.8
While this may not seem overly impressive, it's still better than the results achieved by the much-advertised flu drug Tamiflu, which if taken within 48 hours of onset of illness, might reduce the duration of flu symptoms by 16 hours – similar to eating garlic daily.