Don’t throw away all that garlic you purchased to keep the vampires away during Halloween. Scientists have been busy studying the beneficial effects of garlic. Actually, they have been studying garlic for quite a while — the “Ebers Papyrus” is one of the oldest medical documents the world. It is a 110-page text written at 1500 BC by the ancient Egyptians. The writers claimed garlic “gives vitality, soothes flatulence and aids digestion, mild laxative, shrinks hemorrhoids, rids body of ‘spirits.’”
In more recent databases, there are more than 700 scientific publications looking at the benefits of garlic. Garlic has more recently been touted to reduce fatigue, rev up the immune system, reduce blood pressure, kill strep throat, expel worms, soothe psoriasis, remove excess lead from the body, reduce Alzheimer’s and lengthen your life.
The ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks both used garlic as a performance-enhancing drug. Greek athletes used garlic and the builders of the pyramids were given garlic as a stimulant.
Granted, some of these benefits are theoretical, but some of them have real, direct science behind their claims. For instance, a study comparing garlic to d-penicillamine to reduce high lead levels in adults with chronic high exposure to lead (117 adults working in a car battery factory in Iran) found that garlic worked just as well as the prescription medication in reducing blood lead levels. Garlic users had a significant decrease in headaches, irritability and blood pressure compared to d-penicillamine users. The conclusion was that 1,200 micrograms of allicin, the active component of garlic that also gives it its unique odor, was better than prescription medication due to lower side effects.
Allicin is only created when garlic is chopped or crushed. It is created when alliin (yes, that is spelled correctly) interacts with the enzyme alliinase to create allicin. The physical mincing of garlic makes this reaction happen. It is for this reason that it is recommended to crush garlic 10 minutes before cooking it. Cooking it immediately causes the enzyme to break down before it makes any allicin.
Allicin is stable in low heat but high heat destroys it. Therefore, the best way to get the health benefits of garlic is to crush it, wait 10 minutes, and then add it to your already cooked food. Tip: Many Italians mix in fresh garlic, basil and olive oil to pasta and sauce just before serving it.
Fresh crushed garlic has been proven in both human and cell culture studies to increase the expression of multiple genes responsible for improving immunity. Garlic also has its own bacteria-fighting properties, allicin has been shown in studies to have antimicrobial properties. Allicin even inhibits the growth of the very common, drug-resistant MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
Garlic has been shown to lower blood pressure in a number of studies. And it does have anti-parasitic properties, but it isn’t a recommended primary treatment.
Garlic is theorized to be good for the brain because of its antioxidant properties, but there are no direct studies to show it helps reduce Alzheimer’s. Garlic itself might not lengthen your life, but the Mediterranean diet it is associated with is linked to a longer life.
Garlic is an underappreciated health food and the tastiest way to get bad breath. Just don’t forget the No. 1 rule of garlic: If one person at the table is having garlic, everyone at the table should have garlic, especially if they are sharing the car ride home.
Dr. Sal Iaquinta is the author of “The Year They Tried To Kill Me.” He takes you on the Highway to Health every fourth Monday.
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