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Examining the Health Benefits of Garlic
Do you love to add garlic to everything you eat? A number of studies have shown the health benefits of garlic, including antibacterial and antiviral properties, cancer prevention, anti-inflammatory benefits, cardiovascular benefits and more. Here’s a more in-depth look at the benefits of eating garlic, as well as ways to maximize the health benefits of this tiny vegetable.
The Basis for Garlic’s Health Benefits
Garlic is a member of the Allium family, along with leeks and onions. It contains a huge variety of sulfur-containing compounds such as ajoene, allicin and alliin, which give the garlic it’s odor and many of it’s health benefits. The hydrogen sulfide gas made from the sulfides in garlic help to dilate blood vessels and control blood pressure. Many people in the United States also have a diet that’s deficient in sulfur, so garlic is a great way to supplement this deficiency.
Lowers Cholesterol & Protects Blood Vessels
Garlic has been shown to lower blood triglycerides and cholesterol by about 5-15%. Even more important, however, is garlic’s ability to protect blood vessels from oxidative damage and inflammation. The sulfur-containing compounds in garlic are responsible for controlling inflammation as well as oxidative stress, lowering the risk for heart attack and atherosclerosis. Two compounds in particular have anti-inflammatory properties that inhibit activity of the inflammatory messenger molecules. While the exact process isn’t fully understood yet, studies have shown garlic’s unique ability to support cardiovascular health.
Prevents Blood Clots
Garlic can also prevent blood clots from developing inside of your blood vessels, which seems to be linked to the compound in garlic known as ajoene. Ajoene seems to prevent platelets in the blood from getting too sticky and clumping together.
Lowers Blood Pressure
This vegetable can also lower your blood pressure, as the alliin in garlic blocks the activity of a peptide in your body that causes blood vessels to contract. Blocking this peptide prevents an increase in blood pressure as it widens the blood vessels and allows blood to flow freely. Garlic also contains polysulfides, which are converted into hydrogen sulfide gas once they reach the red blood cells in your body. This gas causes blood vessels to dilate, relieving pressure. It’s important to note that this particular benefit is only achieved from food-form garlic, not extracts or powders.
Other Heart-Healthy Benefits
Garlic also offers a range of cardiovascular benefits from its levels of manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C and selenium. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation and prevents damage to blood vessel walls. Vitamin B6 helps to prevent heart disease by lowering levels of homocysteine in the blood, which also damages blood vessels. The selenium works with vitamin E in the antioxidant system.
There are some studies that offer preliminary evidence about garlic’s important anti-inflammatory aspect as well. The thiacremonone and DAS compounds in this vegetable help with arthritis, while aged garlic extract was shown to help with allergic airway inflammation in a few animal studies.
Garlic’s Cancer Prevention Benefits
Research has also known important anti-cancer properties of garlic and other allium vegetables like onions. A daily serving of allium vegetables was linked to a lower risk for nearly every type of cancer, excluding breast and prostate cancer. Meanwhile, only moderate intake of garlic a few times per week was shown to lower your risk of renal and colorectal cancer. The anti-cancer properties in garlic are related to its allyl sulfides, which trigger an important chain reaction in the cells in your body that help the cells survive under oxidative stress. It also helps cells recognize when they aren’t functioning properly, so they can dismantle and recycle to prevent becoming cancerous.
Improves Iron Metabolism
Research has also shown that garlic can improve your body’s metabolism of iron by increasing production of ferroportin, which allows iron to cross through the cell membrane and leave the cell.
Getting the Most Benefit from Garlic
Garlic should be allowed to sit at room temperature after it’s crushed or chopped so the alliinase enzymes can work best. Before you change the pH of the garlic by adding it to food or its temperature through cooking, let it sit for a few minutes. One study found that microwaving garlic immediately after chopping or crushing can reduce its cancer-protective ability. Immediate cooking or pH change has a similar effect.
It’s recommended that you get at least one serving per day of an allium vegetable like garlic, so try to add at least one or two cloves to a recipe for maximum benefit. Garlic can be enjoyed raw, such as on a salad, although you can also add chopped garlic to many foods to add new taste and aroma. Be sure to add it during the end of the cooking so it retains its nutritional content.