Garlic has long been prized by herbalists and other natural healers around the world because of the many health benefits it offers. Healers in traditions as diverse as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Ayruveda (the traditional system of medicine used in India and other countries in southeastern Asia), and European and Amerindian herbology all include garlic in their lists of most useful herbs, and have done so for many centuries. In fact, garlic has been extolled as health food for at least 4,000 years.
Composed of more than 200 different compounds, garlic, or the "stinking rose," as it is known to herbalists, provides a variety of scientifically-validated health benefits. These include:
In addition, garlic has been shown in scientific studies to act as a "natural antibiotic." Research has proven that garlic acts as powerful antibacterial agent in the body, and also is effective for protecting against fungal infections, parasites, viruses, and chronic yeast infections. It's little wonder then that garlic has been a dietary mainstay in many cultures around the world.
Garlic and Your Body's Cardiovascular System
Literally hundreds of scientific studies have shown that garlic helps to protect healthy heart function and provides a variety of important heart-related benefits. Research has shown that garlic, when consumed regularly, is not only effective for lowering unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, it also helps to maintain healthy blood viscosity (blood thickness - thick blood, like thick ketchup, flows more slowly through the body's veins, arteries and capillaries, forcing the heart to work harder). Garlic accomplishes this task in two ways One, it inhibits platelet aggregation and, two, it increases fibrinolysis.
Platelets are a type of blood cell associated with blood clotting. When platelets aggregate, or stick together, they can form unhealthy blood clots and also cause blood flow to slow. Platelet aggregation has been linked to a variety of cardiovascular conditions, including heart attack and angina (heart-related chest pains), as well as poor circulation in the extremities.
Fibrinolysis refers to a process in which enzymes digest or dissolve fibrins in the body, protecting against unhealthy blood clots. Fibrins are a type of insoluble blood protein. If fibrins are allowed to build up in the body, they too can result in the formation of unhealthy blood clots and thicker blood viscosity. Fibrinolysis is necessary to prevent these events from happening.
Garlic has also been shown to inhibit the production of cholesterol in the liver. This, in turn, results in less cholesterol being released into the bloodstream. In addition, research shows that garlic aids in the body's manufacture of healthy HDL cholesterol. Unlike LDL cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease, HDL cholesterol is known to protect against cardiovascular conditions because it is more easily broken down and metabolized in the liver.
Research also shows that regular garlic consumption can protect against moderately high blood pressure, and can improve circulation caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Researchers have also discovered that in countries such as Italy and Spain, where garlic consumption is high, the overall incidence of artherosclerosis is low, compared to other countries, including the United States, where garlic consumption is relatively low.
Another cardiovascular condition that garlic has been shown to protect against is intermittent claudication, a condition characterized by painful cramping in the muscles of the back and legs. Symptoms of intermittent claudication usually occur during walking or running, and the condition itself is caused by poor blood flow to the body's muscles.
Making Garlic A Part of Your Healthy Lifestyle
Because of it's heart-related healthy benefits alone, it makes sense to include garlic regularly in your meals. And when you consider garlic's other important health benefits, doing so makes even more sense. To obtain garlic's benefits, simply add one or two cloves of fresh, chopped garlic as a spice to one of your meals each day. Lightly roasted garlic is another way in which you can enjoy garlic with your meals, and is particularly recommended if you don't wish to experience the garlicky odor that can occur when garlic is eaten. (The roasting process tends to reduce this likelihood.)
If you don't wish to run the risk of smelling like garlic but still want to obtain garlic's health benefits, you can also take garlic in the form of a supplement. Such supplements are available at your local health food store in the form of odorless, enteric-coated garlic powder tablets containing standardized allicin, the main active ingredient in garlic cloves. For best results, choose a garlic product that has a high allicin content and take 500o mg in divided doses (one dose with each of your meals).
Note: Because of garlic's anti-clotting properties, you should not use garlic if you are currently using anticoagulant (blood thinning) drugs without first speaking with your physician. Aside from this precaution, however, garlic is safe for everyday use.