Garlic, Kitchen Herb Or So Much More?

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Garlic is a very well known herb in the culinary world, particularly across the continent of Asia. Moreover, Garlic is treasured for its health properties, as it is commonly known as the following alternative names “Russian Penicillin”, “A Natural Antibiotic” and “Vegetable Viagra” [1]

What is the origin of Garlic?

Contrary to common knowledge, Garlic is actually part of the Lily family [2]. Its Latin name is Allium Sativum and it is native to Asia. It’s a leafy plant that grows to around 1.5m tall and bears white flowers in bloom. The main interest for the health and culinary worlds are the contents of the roots. The Allium Sativum grows large and bulbous roots that have a pale, white and crispy exterior, yet when peeled have a rose pink and segmented interior. [2]

Garlic has been used for countless years in history to treat a multitude of ailments. Its first recorded use was in 1500BC in Ancient Egypt, where it was used to treat illnesses that would now be treated by antibiotics in Western medicine. Also, in Ancient Egypt it was fed to slaves as it was believed to provide strength, empowering them to build the mighty pyramids. Allium Sativum was held in such high regard in Ancient Egypt that Pharaoh Tutankhamen was buried in a sarcophagus surrounded by bulbs of it [3]. In the Roman era it was also thought to provide strength, as well as treating dog bites, asthma and leprosy. One tale spoke of the magic of Garlic in protecting people against the plague. This tale is known as “The Four Thieves Vinegar”. This story hails from 15th century England, where four thieves were attempting to rob a house infected by the Bubonic Plague. They were caught by the law, but magically they escaped unscathed by the plague. They were told they could spare death for their crimes if they revealed how they survived. They admitted to the crime and described the “Vinegar” they made by each adding a herb to the pot and rubbing it on their chest for protection [4]. Now, we understand that Garlic actually holds anti-bacterial properties, perfect for combating a bacterial infection, such as the plague [5]. Lastly, in WW1, Garlic was used on the front line to treat wounds inflicted on the battle field. [3]

The active ingredient is a sulphur containing compound called Allicin. Allicin is what gives garlic its distinctive smell and tangy taste. In addition, Allicin is the active health providing ingredient. [2]

What can it do for me?

Garlic is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral [5]. Due to its numerous therapeutic properties, it has been used to treat many illnesses, from viral warts to respiratory infections.

Blood pressure and Heart Health

Most commonly Garlic is prescribed for Cardiovascular health, such as high blood pressure and coronary heart disease, either to act as a preventative measure or ease symptoms. According to one study conducted, the use of garlic tablets can cause a 12% reduction in diastolic blood pressure. By reducing blood pressure it eases the burden on the vasculature and heart, leading to 38% reduction in risk of coronary heart disease (CHD)[5]. Moreover, another study conducted a 4 year follow up on patients that took a daily dose of 900mg. They found that taking Garlic in such quantities slowed the onset of atherosclerosis. [6]

Antioxidant

Antioxidants play a vital role in the body, preventing oxidation and damage to cells. This damage is caused by free radicals, or Reactive oxygen species (ROS). These particles are highly reactive and highly damaging due to the free unpaired electron in their structure. Antioxidants detect and scavenge these free radicals to prevent them from causing oxidation, which can lead to diseases such as Atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease [7]. A study by Chung (2006) found that although the active ingredients in garlic couldn’t prevent lipid oxidation they were affective in the scavenging of hydroxyl free radicals. Hydroxyls are one of the most common free radicals in the body. [8]

Immune System and Microbiota

Garlic is one of the most favoured methods of naturally enhancing the body’s immune system and maintaining homoeostasis. It has been found that garlic stimulates production of immune cells such as macrophages, lymphocytes and natural killer cells. In particular are the sulphur containing compounds that generate medicinal properties within the body. [9] In addition, Garlic is naturally very high in the vitamin, B6, which is renowned for its immune system promoting properties [2]

Insulin and carbohydrate metabolism

A study on type 2 diabetic rats measured the affect of garlic tablets on serum glucose, insulin, triglyceride and uric acids levels over an 8 week period. They found that in comparison to the control groups, those rats that were fed garlic had a significant reduction in their plasma serum glucose, insulin, triglyceride and uric acid levels. [10]

Where can I find it?

The obvious source of garlic, is in food. However, to get a medicinal dose of garlic you would have to consume vast quantities of raw garlic, considering there is only 3.6mg of allicin in one clove of garlic. The recommended dosage of garlic, per day, is between 600-900mg, however, higher doses can be taken, it is all a matter of personal tolerance. This dosage can be achieved by taking an dietary supplement. [5]

  1. Petrovska,BB. Cekovska,S.. (2010). Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic. Pharmacological Reviews. 4 (7), Pg.106-110.
  2. Botanical Online. (2016). Medicinal Properties of Garlic. Available: http://www.botanical-online.com/medicinalsalliumsativumangles.htm.
  3. Vegetable Facts. (2016). History of Garlic. Available: http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-garlic/.
  4. Wigington, P.. (2013). Four Thieves Vinegar . Available: http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/othermagicspells/ss/Four-Thieves-Vinegar.htm.
  5. Brewer, S.Dr.. (2002). Garlic. In: Grapevine Publishing Services The Daily Telegraph Encyclopediaof Vitamins, Minerals and Herbal Supplements. . London: Constable & Robinson. Pg.172-176.
  6. UMM. (2015). Garlic. Available: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/garlic.
  7. Mercola.J. (2016). The Ultimate Guide to Antioxidants. Available: http://articles.mercola.com/antioxidants.aspx.
  8. Chung, LY.. (2006). The antioxidant properties of garlic compounds: allyl cysteine, alliin, allicin, and allyl disulfide. Journal of Medicinal Food. 9 (2), Pg. 205-213.
  9. Arreola,R. et-al. (2015). Immunomodulation and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Garlic Compounds. Journal of Immunology Research. 2015 (3), Pg.13.
  10. Padiya R, Khatua TN, Bagul PK, Kuncha M, Banerjee SK. Garlic improves insulin sensitivity and associated metabolic syndromes in fructose fed rats.Nutrition & Metabolism. 2011;8:53. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-8-53.

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