Intensely aromatic and flavorful, garlic is used in virtually every cuisine in the world. When eaten raw, garlic has a powerful, pungent flavor to match its truly mighty health benefits. Garlic is particularly high in certain sulfur compounds that are believed to be responsible for its scent and taste, as well as its very positive effects on human health. Garlic ranks only 2nd to turmeric, in the amount of research backing this super food. At the time I wrote this article, there were 5,100 peer-reviewed articles that evaluated garlic’s ability to prevent and improve a wide spectrum of diseases.
And do you know what all this research revealed?
Eating garlic regularly is not only good for us; it has been linked to reducing or even helping to prevent 4 of the major causes of death worldwide including heart disease, stroke, cancer and infections. (1) The National Cancer Institute does not recommend any dietary supplement for cancer prevention, but they do recognize garlic as one of several vegetables with potential anticancer properties. (2)
Other than the most extreme, rare situations, I don’t see why every person on the planet shouldn’t be consuming garlic in their meals. It’s extremely cost-effective, super easy to grow and tastes absolutely fantastic! In this article, I will cover garlic health benefits, garlic uses, garlic research, how to grow your own garlic and some great tasting garlic recipes.
Garlic Nutrition Facts
Garlic grows underneath the soil in the form of a bulb. This bulb has long green shoots that come out from the top while its roots extend downward. Garlic (Allium sativum) is a perennial plant of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), a class of bulb-shaped plants, which include chives, leeks, onions, and scallions.
The garlic plant is native to central Asia but grows wild in Italy as well as southern France. The bulb of the plant is what we all know as garlic, the vegetable. What is a garlic clove? The garlic bulb is covered with several layers of inedible papery skin that when peeled away reveal up to 20 edible bulblets called cloves inside.
Garlic contains countless vital nutrients — flavonoids, oligosaccharides, amino acids, allicin and high levels of sulfur (just to name a few)— and eating garlic regularly has been proven to provide unbelievable health benefits. Raw garlic also contains approximately 0.1 percent essential oil of which the main components include allyl propyl disulfide, diallyl disulfide and diallyl trisulfide. (3)
Raw garlic is conventionally measured for cooking and medicinal purposes by the clove. Each garlic clove is packed with health-promoting components. Six cloves (18 grams) of garlic are said to contain about: (4)
- 26.8 calories
- 0 grams fat
- 0 grams sodium
- 0.38 grams fiber
- 0 grams sugar
- 1.14 gram protein
- 0.3 milligrams manganese (15 percent DV)
- 0.22 milligram B6 (13 percent DV)
- 5.62 milligrams vitamin C (7 percent DV)
- 0.05 milligrams copper (6 percent DV)
- 2.56 micrograms selenium (5 percent DV)
- 27.54 micrograms phosphorus (4 percent DV)
- 32.58 milligrams calcium (3 percent DV)
- 0.04 milligrams vitamin B1 (3 percent DV)
These are just some of the top nutrients found in garlic. Garlic also contains alliin and allicin, which are both health-promoting sulfur compounds. Garlic’s allicin benefits are especially well-researched in studies. Scientists are interested in the potential for these sulfur compounds derived from garlic to prevent and treat chronic and deadly diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
7 Medicinal Health Benefits of Raw Garlic
As you are about to see, raw garlic health benefits are plentiful. Raw garlic can used as an effective form of plant based medicine in many ways.
1. Garlic for Heart Disease
According to the CDC, heart disease is the number one killer in the United States followed by cancer. (5) Garlic has been widely recognized as both a preventative agent and treatment of many cardiovascular and metabolic diseases including atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, thrombosis, hypertension and diabetes. A scientific review of experimental and clinical studies of garlic health benefits finds that overall, garlic consumption has significant cardioprotective effects, in both animal and human studies. (6)
Probably the most amazing characteristic of garlic is that it has been shown to literally reverse early heart disease by reversing plaque buildup in arteries. A 2016 randomized, double blind study published in The Journal of Nutrition involved 55 patients, aged 40 to 75 years, who had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. The results of the study showed that aged garlic extract effectively reduces plaque in coronary arteries (the arteries supplying blood to the heart) for patients with metabolic syndrome. (7)
One of the lead researchers, Matthew J. Budoff, MD, said, “This study is another demonstration of the benefits of this supplement in reducing the accumulation of soft plaque and preventing the formation of new plaque in the arteries, which can cause heart disease. We have completed four randomized studies, and they have led us to conclude that Aged Garlic Extract can help slow the progression of atherosclerosis and reverse the early stages of heart disease.” (8)
2. Garlic for Cancer
Allium vegetables, especially garlic and onions, and their bioactive sulfur compounds are believed to have effects at each stage of cancer formation and affect many biological processes that modify cancer risk. (9)
In the words of the NIH National Cancer Institute, “Several population studies show an association between increased intake of garlic and reduced risk of certain cancers, including cancers of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, and breast.” They also include an answer to a very key question, how can garlic act to prevent cancer? The National Cancer Institute explains that “protective effects from garlic may arise from its antibacterial properties or from its ability to block the formation of cancer-causing substances, halt the activation of cancer-causing substances, enhance DNA repair, reduce cell proliferation, or induce cell death.” (10)
A French study of 345 breast cancer patients found that increased garlic, onion and fiber consumption were associated with a statistically significant reduction in breast cancer risk. (11) Another cancer that garlic has been specifically shown to positively affect is pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms cancer. The good news is that scientific research has now shown that increased garlic consumption may reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. A population-based study conducted in the San Francisco Bay area found that pancreatic cancer risk was 54 percent lower in people who ate larger amounts of garlic and onions compared with those who ate lower amounts. The study also showed that increasing the overall intake of vegetables and fruits may protect against developing pancreatic cancer. (12)
Garlic also shows promise when it comes to treating cancer. Garlic’s organosulfur compounds, including DATS, DADS, ajoene, and S-allylmercaptocysteine (SAMC), have been found to induce cell cycle arrest when added to cancer cells during in vitro experiments. In addition, these sulfur compounds have been found to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) when added to various cancer cell lines grown in culture. Taking liquid garlic extract and S-allylcysteine (SAC) orally has also been reported to increase cancer cell death an animal model of oral cancer. (13)
Overall, garlic is clearly showing some real cancer discouraging and fighting abilities that should not be ignored or discounted.
3. Garlic for High Blood Pressure
An interesting phenomenon of garlic is that has been shown to help control hypertension or high blood pressure. One study wanted to look at the effect of aged garlic extract as an adjunct treatment for people already taking antihypertensive medication but yet still having uncontrolled hypertension. Garlic showed itself to be highly effective once again. The study, published in the scientific journal Maturitas, evaluated 50 people with “uncontrollable” blood pressure. It was uncovered that simply taking four capsules of aged garlic extract (960 milligrams) daily for 3 months caused their blood pressure to drop by an average of 10 points! (14)
Another study published in 2014, found that garlic has “the potential to lower BP in hypertensive individuals similarly to standard BP medication.” So garlic, specifically in the form of the standardizable and highly tolerable aged garlic extract for this study, could work just as well as prescription hypertension medications. This study further explains that garlic’s polysulfides promote the opening or widening of blood vessels and hence, blood pressure reduction. (15)
If you want to lower blood pressure, check out this article on how to naturally lower blood pressure, which of course includes garlic.
4. Garlic for Colds and Infections
Experiments have shown that garlic (or specific chemical compounds like allicin found in garlic) is highly effective at killing countless microorganisms responsible for some of the most common and rarest infections including the common cold. Garlic actually might help to prevent colds as well as other infections.
In one study, people took either garlic supplements or a placebo for 12 weeks during cold season (between November and February). The garlic takers were less likely to get a cold and if they did get a cold, they recovered faster than the placebo group. Those who didn’t take garlic (placebo group) had a much greater likelihood of contracting more than one cold over the 12 week treatment period. The study attributes garlic’s ability to prevent the common cold virus to its star biologically active component component, allicin. (16)
Garlic’s antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties can help to relieve the common cold as well as other infections. Garlic’s allicin in particular is believed to play an important role in this vegetable’s antimicrobial powers.
5. Garlic for Male and Female Hair Loss (Alopecia)
One clinical trial has been conducted to test what a survey has shown to be a growing practice in Turkey; using garlic to treat baldness. Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences researchers from Iran tested how garlic gel applied on the scalp twice a day for three months could affect people taking corticosteroids for alopecia. Alopecia is is a common autoimmune skin disease, causing hair loss on the scalp, face and sometimes on other areas of the body. Different treatments are currently available, but no cure is yet known.
The researchers discovered that the use of garlic gel significantly added to the therapeutic efficacy of topical corticosteroid in the treatment of alopecia areata. (17) Although the study didn’t test it directly, I would like to suggest that applying garlic-infused coconut oil as a standalone treatment might even be more beneficial because it mitigates the risk of absorbing harmful corticosteroids in the skin. Hopefully, some studies will be conducted soon to test my theory!
Also, to naturally thicken hair and to stop hair loss, you may try adding rosemary essential oil to your shampoo or trying this homemade rosemary mint shampoo recipe.
6. Garlic for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that can rob people of the ability to think clearly, perform everyday tasks and ultimately, remember who they even are. Garlic contains antioxidants that can support the body’s protective mechanisms against oxidative damage that can contribute to these cognitive illnesses.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s patients, β-amyloid peptide plaques are commonly observed in the central nervous system and these plaque deposits result in the production of reactive oxygen species and neuronal (cells in the nervous system) damage. A study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry found “significant neuroprotective and neurorescue properties” of aged garlic extract and its active compound S-allyl-L-cysteine (SAC). The researchers conclude from their findings that aged garlic extract along with SAC can be used to develop future drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease. (18)
7. Garlic for Diabetes
Garlic has shown its ability to help diabetics as well. Eating garlic has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels, potentially stop or decrease the effects of some diabetes complications, as well as fighting infections, reducing LDL cholesterol and encourage circulation. (9)
A study of diabetic rats showed that garlic may be very helpful at improving the overall health of diabetics including the mitigation of common diabetic complications like atherosclerosis and nephropathy. These rats receiving a daily extract of raw garlic for seven weeks significantly lowered serum glucose (blood sugar level), cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Compared to the control group, the rats receiving raw garlic had 57% less serum glucose, 40% lower serum cholesterol levels and 35% lower triglyceride. In addition, urinary protein levels in garlic-treated rats were 50% lower. (19)
Another study also showed that for type II diabetes patients, garlic significantly improved blood cholesterol levels. Specifically, garlic consumption reduced total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol and moderately raised HDL (good) cholesterol compared to placebo. (9)
Garlic History & Interesting Facts
Garlic has an over 7,000 year old history of human consumption and use. (20) In ancient and medieval times, garlic was revered for its medicinal properties and was carried as a charm against vampires and other evils. In France during the early 18th century, gravediggers drank wine containing crushed garlic to protect themselves from the plague. During both World War I and II, garlic was used as an antiseptic for wounds and was given to prevent infections (like gangrene) in soldiers. (21)
Each bulb of garlic is made up of 4 to 20 cloves with each clove of garlic weighing about 1 gram. Garlic supplements can be made from fresh, dried, aged, or garlic oil.
Black garlic is a type of caramelized garlic, which was first used as a food ingredient in Asian cooking. To create black garlic, heads of garlic are heated over the course of several weeks. This heating process makes the garlic black in color. It also makes it sweet and syrupy. Black garlic is now available for purchase in the United States.
Best Ways to Use Garlic
Garlic is best used raw for microbial properties, although cooked garlic still has a lot of value. In fact, the antioxidant value is equal (or sometimes even higher) when cooked, which is counterintuitive because for most foods, cooking tends to decrease nutritional content.
You can add raw garlic to recipes that are sautéed, roasted or baked. You can also toss some raw garlic into your next homemade salad dressing, marinade, tomato sauce, soup or stew. Adding raw garlic to any vegetable, fish or meat is sure to intensify the flavor and health benefits.
Whether you’re ultimately using garlic raw or cooked, you can up garlic’s health benefits by chopping or crushing it and letting it sit before eating it or heating it for a recipe. The chopping activates alliinase enzymes in the garlic’s cells and the sitting allows these enzymes to convert some of the garlic’s allin into allicin. Allicin then rapidly breaks down to form a variety of organosulfur compounds. Scientists suggest allowing garlic to stand for 10 minutes after chopping or crushing before cooking it. (22)
Another way to use garlic is for infections. Using garlic oil for ear infections is an excellent home remedy that can really work.
Traditional cultures that don’t typically struggle with these types of diseases receive a regular intake of garlic in their diet and don’t require medical interventions because heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory-based illnesses are easily preventable when eating the right foods as God intended.
For general health promotion for adults, The World Health Organization’s recommends a daily dose of 2 to 5 grams (about 1 clove) of fresh garlic, 0.4 to 1.2 grams of dried garlic powder, 2 to 5 milligrams of garlic oil, 300 to 1,000 milligrams of garlic extract, or other formulations that are equal to 2 to 5 milligrams of allicin. (23)
Garlic is best stored at room temperature and should always be kept dry (to prevent it from sprouting).
How to Grow Garlic at Home!
Garlic is one of the more simple crops to grow. It thrives in different zones all across the United States. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we should plant our cloves during the fall season and harvest them in late spring/early summer.
Don’t throw away any leftover cloves from your next curry dish. Garlic clove food scraps are amazingly simple to use regrow garlic plants. Plant the cloves root-end down in a sunny spot in your garden and trim off the shoots once the bulb produces them. Garlic flourishes in dry, loose, well-drained soils in sunny locations.
Garlic Recipes for Healing
If you want to harness the healing power of garlic, then try adding it to some of your favorite recipes. The possibilities with garlic are truly endless.
Here are a few of my favorite garlic recipes to try:
Potential Raw Garlic Side Effects
When taken by mouth, raw garlic can cause burning a sensation in the mouth or stomach, bad breath, heartburn, gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, body odor, and diarrhea. The likelihood of these side effects increase with an increase in the amount of raw garlic consumed.
In general, garlic in any form can increase bleeding risk because it acts as a natural blood thinner. Speak to your doctor before consuming raw garlic if you take blood thinners. Due to bleeding concerns, stop taking garlic at least two weeks before any scheduled surgery.
During pregnancy and breast feeding, garlic is believed to be safe in food amounts, but might be unsafe in medicinal amounts.
When taken by mouth in appropriate, small amounts for short periods of time, garlic is said to be safe for children. However, garlic should never be given to children in large doses.
If you have any gastrointestinal problems, it’s important to know that raw garlic can irritate the GI tract. People with ulcers should most likely avoid raw garlic.
Raw garlic can cause severe, burn-like skin irritation if applied to the skin alone directly so be cautious with skin contact.
Talk to your doctor before consuming raw garlic if you have low blood pressure, ulcers or other GI issues, thyroid problems or any other ongoing health concerns.
Speak with your doctor before consuming raw garlic medicinally if you are taking any medications, especially the following: (24)
- Blood-thinning medications
- Isoniazid (Nydrazid)
- Birth control pills
- Medications for HIV/AIDS
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
These are the best ways to guard against any possible negative garlic side effects:
- Consume garlic in culinary doses
- Eat traditional recipes
- Avoid taking raw garlic in massive amounts
Some of the most profound garlic benefits being proven by science include reversing heart disease in its early stages, preventing and fighting various forms of cancer, improving the health of diabetics and it’s even showing promise for serious cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.
To make the most of garlic’s active compounds, it’s best to either consume garlic raw, or to crush/cut it and leave it out for a bit (10 minutes) before you add it to your cooked recipes.
If you’re not already a garlic fan, I highly suggest you start falling in love with this delicious and medicinal vegetable. A clove of raw garlic with a meal each day is a great, easy way to start reaping garlic’s health benefits on a consistent basis. Definitely remember to consume raw garlic with food rather than on an empty stomach to prevent in gastrointestinal problems as well as bad breath. If you find it hard to get rid of your garlic breath, just try eating some raw parsley afterwards.