Garlic is doing a lot more these days than warding off vampires — or even adding flavor to favorite dishes. The herb, known affectionately as "the stinking rose," is a potent antioxidant and dishes up a wide variety of health benefits.
Garlic contains allicin, a chemical that has antibacterial abilities, along with many detoxifying sulfur compounds. Also called "Russian penicillin" for that country's dedicated use of it, garlic — fresh or as a supplement tablet or capsule — may help improve these seven conditions:
1. Heart disease
Studies indicate that garlic may prevent the buildup of plaque and prevent blood clots by thinning the blood, thus lowering the risk of strokes and thromboses. A study at Germany's Saarland University found that garlic helps dissolve potentially dangerous clots. Dr. Arun Bordia at India's Tagore Medical College found that patients who took garlic oil daily for 10 months were 83 percent less likely to form dangerous blood clots.
Studies conducted in Japan, India, and Saudi Arabia show that garlic regulates and lowers blood sugar. The Indian study found the allicin in garlic combines with the B vitamin thiamine and stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin.
Several studies have found that garlic lowers blood levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol — the "bad" forms — as much as 20 percent. In one large study, those who took 800 milligrams of powdered garlic daily for four months lowered their cholesterol by 12 percent and their triglycerides by 17 percent, while the placebo group experienced little change.
4. Blood pressure
In an analysis of seven randomized controlled studies of garlic supplements, four showed a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading), and three showed a reduction in systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), according to About.com. A chemical in garlic called hydrogen sulfide makes smooth muscles relax, thus helping to control blood pressure.
5. Common cold
A British study found that people taking a garlic supplement containing allicin each day reduced their chances of catching a cold by more than half when compared to those taking a placebo. In addition, those who caught colds recovered more quickly, and their chances of an infection following the cold were significantly reduced.
According to Cancer.gov, studies have found that garlic lowers the risk of pancreatic cancer by 54 percent, prostate cancer by 50 percent, colon cancer by 50 percent, and stomach cancer by 52 percent. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina found that sulfur compounds in garlic are effective against glioblastoma, a fatal type of brain tumor. Garlic has also been found to lower the risk of esophageal, breast, bladder, and skin cancer.
7. Brain function
Chinese researchers found that a sulfur compound in garlic called S-allyl cystein (SAC) helps prevent degeneration in the frontal lobes of the brain. Other studies have found that memory retention improves after eating garlic.