When you think about garlic, its medicinal properties may not come immediately to mind. After all, this flavorful herb is prized the world over for its culinary prowess. But in the world of herbal medicine, garlic supplements are just as prized as the pungent cloves are in the world of cooking. And for very good reason.
The Science of Garlic Supplements
Thousands of scientific articles show that garlic repels unwanted organisms, including harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi; has anti-tumor qualities; reduces risk for heart disease; and may improve levels of blood sugar by reducing insulin resistance. Its use dates back thousands of years, for prevention and treatment of various diseases, in poultices to prevent infection of wounds, and even as a performance enhancer among Olympic athletes in ancient Greece.
Today, prevention of heart disease is one of the biggest reasons why people take garlic in supplements. But there are other uses for this multipurpose herb. Here are the top reasons to take a garlic supplement:
Garlic Supplements and Artery Protection
Researchers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., found that Aged Garlic Extract (AGE) supplements slowed the progression of arterial plaque by 80 percent. (Aged Garlic Extract is a specific type of odorless garlic.) “We have completed four randomized studies, and they have led us to conclude that AGE can help slow the progression of atherosclerosis and reverse early stages of heart disease,” says lead researcher Matthew Budoff, MD.
Garlic Supplements for Cholesterol & Blood Pressure Control
A review of garlic research, published in the Journal of Nutrition, analyzed studies that followed a total of more than 3,000 people. It found that garlic supplements reduced total and LDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent if taken for at least two months. Systolic blood pressure (the top number) was reduced by an average of 5.1 mm Hg, and diastolic by 2.5 mm Hg. The review also found that garlic enhanced the immune system.
Garlic Supplements: Inflammation Busters
Another review, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that other markers of atherosclerosis, such as chronic inflammation and calcification of arteries, were also reduced. Although studies showed that different types of garlic supplements were effective, researchers noted: “The most consistent benefits were shown in studies that used aged garlic extract (AGE).”
Garlic Supplements for Stomach & Colon Cancer Prevention
One study tracked the diets and health of more than 40,000 women and found that regularly eating significant amounts of raw or cooked garlic reduced risk for stomach and colon cancer.
Garlic Supplements & Immune Health
One study found that garlic supplements, taken daily during cold season, help to prevent or shorten the duration of colds.
Raw vs. Cooked Garlic
As well as being a flavorful culinary ingredient, garlic is a therapeutic food. When raw garlic is chewed, beneficial compounds are released. Cooking can detstroy beneficial compounds; studies have found that even 30 seconds of microwaving whole garlic cloves can negate active compounds. However, chopping or crushing raw garlic begins to release beneficial compounds, and these develop further if garlic sits for about 10 minutes at room temperature.
As a general rule, the cooking method makes less of a difference than the cooking time, as the longer garlic is exposed to heat, the more active compounds are destroyed. But one study, published in the Journal of Functional Foods, found that stir-frying preserved the most beneficial compounds.