Natural Medicine Cabinet: Garlic for Athlete’s Foot, Colds and Cancer

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Garlic’s uses cover many aspects of daily life. Its pungent aroma and flavor make it a favorite cooking ingredient, and its health benefits have made it a cure-all for various ailments for centuries. Garlic also played an important role historically in society as it was used to ward off the plague (and vampires).

In medicinal use, garlic (Allium sativum) has been cultivated and used for about 5,000 years by ancient cultures to treat various health problems ranging from fevers to diseases. Today we know that garlic possesses antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral and anticarcinogenic properties, to name a few. These properties make garlic useful for treating a number of modern health problems.

bunches of garlic cloves
Garlic can be used to treat athlete's foot, colds, infections and even prevent cancer. Photo By David Goehring/Courtesy Flickr 

Athlete’s Foot: Because garlic is antifungal, it can help clear up athlete’s foot, a common foot infection caused by a fungus that grows on the skin. Health.com suggests boiling several cloves of garlic in hot water, letting it cool to a comfortable temperature and then soaking your feet in the garlic water.

Colds/Infections: Garlic’s antibacterial and antiviral properties make it beneficial for preventing and treating colds and infections. A 2001 study found that adults who took garlic supplements came down with fewer cases of the cold than those who didn’t take garlic. Scientists believe that the allicin in garlic helps the body resist viral and bacterial infections by blocking certain enzymes.

Cancer: The National Cancer Institute reports that population studies have shown that eating garlic can reduce the risk for developing certain types of cancer, such as stomach, intestinal, colon, breast and prostate cancer, to name a few. Few clinical trials have been conducted on the matter, so it’s unclear whether or not consuming garlic really can reduce the risk of cancer, but the institute believes that if garlic does have medicinal value, it comes from its antibacterial properties and its ability to block the formation of cancer-causing substances and enhance DNA repair.

Many of garlic’s healing properties are attributed to a sulfur compound called allicin. Garlic doesn’t normally contain high amounts of this compound, but when the garlic is cut or crushed it releases allicin. For this reason, eating raw garlic provides the most health benefits, as cooking changes and deteriorates the compounds. To derive the maximum benefits from fresh garlic, allow the garlic to sit for 15 minutes after cutting or crushing; this gives the enzyme reaction longer to process.