Garlic is known not only for its culinary uses but for its medical uses as well. In Ancient Egypt culture, garlic was part of the Egyptians’ everyday diet and was specifically given to those involved in strenuous labor such as pyramid building. In Ancient Greece, garlic was part of the diet of Greek soldiers especially when going to battle. During the earliest Olympics, there is also evidence to suggest that garlic was given to the athletes before the competition. In both Greek and Egyptian culture, garlic was associated with strength and ability to do work.
In Ancient Rome, Japan, China, and India, the medicinal uses of garlic were widely put into practice and garlic was seen to be an effective treatment for infections, respiratory and digestive problems, worm infestation, depression, heart disease, and arthritis. Today, the different recognized benefits of garlic include reduced risk for heart disease, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. It is also said to help protect from cancer and offers protection from cancer. Garlic is most widely recognized for its benefits to heart health.
The Basics of Garlic
Garlic is also known as allium sativum. It is a perennial that originates from central Asia although it is now found throughout the world. It can grow at least 2 feet in height and each garlic bulb has about four to twenty cloves. In the past, it was thought that a chemical called allicin was responsible for the different medicinal properties of garlic but further studies have shown several other compounds in garlic that may be responsible for its health effects. There are over 200 chemical compounds present in garlic but those considered to be most significant in terms of health benefits are compounds containing sulfur such as allicin, ajoene, and alliin as well as enzymes like peroxidase, myrosinase, and alliinase.
Health Properties of Garlic
Garlic benefits the health by providing the body with antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent free radical damage that causes cell damage and cell death. Free radical damage is associated with the development of different health problems including chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals present in the body and in the environment.
Garlic has anticoagulant properties meaning it helps thin the blood. This property of garlic makes it useful in the prevention of stroke and heart attack. Garlic’s blood-thinning property is due to a chemical called ajoene which is also found in lesser amounts in onions.
The compound allicin is responsible for the antiseptic properties of garlic. Garlic is not only effective against bacterial infections but against those caused by viruses and fungi as well.
Studies show that garlic may also have anti-cancer properties. In studies done to rodents, high doses of garlic were able to inhibit the growth of tumors. Garlic is said to be effective in preventing certain types of cancer, particularly cancers of the stomach and colon. Aside from inhibiting tumor growth, another one of the health benefits of garlic is it can help protect cancer brought about by nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are known carcinogenic compounds that are produced when nitrite, a food preservative, combines with the amino acids present in the stomach.
Right Way of Eating Garlic
In order to get the maximum benefits of garlic, it is important to know the right way to eat it. According to research, crushing, chopping, pressing, or mincing garlic before cooking or eating it enhances its beneficial health effects. Garlic contains a sulfur-containing compound alliin and an enzyme alliinase which are both needed to form allicin. Formation of allicin can only be possible when the garlic is cut into pieces.
Chopping the garlic finely or pressing it to become a smooth paste causes more allicin to be produced and enhances its health benefits. Although garlic supplements are available in the form of garlic oil and dried garlic, studies show that fresh garlic is still the best way to obtain maximum health benefits of garlic.
Eating garlic regularly as part of the foods you eat can have value not only in keeping the heart healthy but for better health in general as well. Some may find the odor of garlic as off-putting but its many health benefits are more than enough to make up for its pungent smell.