While most people don't expect to see garlic anywhere but on their dinner table, the pungent herb has also been prized for its medicinal properties for more than 5,000 years. The Greek physician Hippocrates, consider the father of Western medicine, prescribed garlic for a wide range of illnesses and conditions, from infections to digestive problems, and modern science has revealed even more beneficial uses for garlic, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health. Below are five of the most surprising health benefits of the humble garlic clove.
The allicin found in garlic and garlic extract has been shown to boost the effectiveness of the immune system. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that people who consumed garlic once a day had almost 65% fewer colds than those who ate no garlic. And while garlic can't cure the symptoms of a cold, another study found that it could help reduce the length of those symptoms.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes are some of the most deadly health issues in the world. Thankfully, the compounds in garlic offer a number of protective cardiovascular benefits. Garlic can reduce levels of harmful cholesterol, and in high doses (roughly four cloves per day), it can significantly reduce blood pressure as well. Garlic is also rich in sulfur, which prevents oxidative damage and keeps blood vessels healthy.
While most of the studies are still in preliminary phases, there is a promising amount of new research suggesting that garlic and garlic-based extracts--especially aged garlic extract--can greatly reduce inflammation throughout the body. In particular, allergic inflammations and swelling related to arthritis seem to respond well to the compounds in garlic.
Lower Risk of Infection
Garlic has been revered since ancient times for its powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties. Studies have shown that garlic can defend against a wide variety of microbes, including yeasts and funguses, and against certain bacteria it has even been shown to be more effective than brand-name antibiotics.
The sulfides contained in garlic offer a large host of important anti-cancer benefits. Long-term studies have shown that high garlic intake can lower the risk of virtually every kind of cancer, while even eating garlic once or twice per week can help your body fight off colorectal, renal, and lung cancer. Research suggests that in addition to wiping out cancer cells, the compounds in garlic can prevent them from forming in the first place.
Garlic is far from a miracle cure-all, but studies have shown that it can significantly reduce the risk and alleviate the symptoms of a wide range of illnesses and long-term health conditions. The good news is that you don't have to subject yourself to constant garlic breath to reap the benefits - most research suggests that eating even a single clove per day is enough, and garlic extract is also available for those who can't stand the taste or smell.