The Medicinal Value of Garlic

For healing with food, it’s hard to do better than garlic, which can help with osteoarthritis, lower high blood pressure naturally, and much more.

| September/October 2016

  • Crushing garlic cloves and letting them sit a few minutes before cooking can preserve their health benefits.
    Photo by iStock
  • Garlic is one of the world's healthiest foods, and there are many ways to incorporate it into your diet.
    Photo by iStock
  • Garlic has many health properties, including fighting several types of cancer.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Aioli is a mayonnaise-based sauce perfect for dipping raw or cooked vegetables.
    Photo by iStock
  • Olive tapenade made with garlic works as a dip with vegetables, or spread on toast or crackers.
    Photo by iStock
  • Little girl with garlic braid at the farmer's market
    Photo by iStock
  • A tasty side dish like this spinach with pan roasted garlic is an easy way to get more garlic into your diet.
    Photo by iStock

How many of your salad dressing ingredients were once worshipped as a god and used as ancient currency? Probably only one: The glorious garlic bulb. Worshipped and used as money in ancient Egypt, garlic has been credited with warding off everything from the Black Plague to vampires. Despite its heady history, this flavorful and versatile herb is plentiful, inexpensive and a cinch to grow.

Garlic is a member of the Allium family, which also includes onions, scallions, chives and leeks. Its earthy flavor complements almost any cuisine, and it’s used heavily around the world. While in the United States we consume a decent amount of garlic—about two pounds each per capita—in countries such as Italy, Korea and China, where garlic is used liberally in the diet and seems to be protective against disease, per-capita consumption is as high as eight to 12 cloves a day, according to The New York Times.

When it comes to health, there isn’t just one reason to love garlic, but many, including its proven abilities to help combat some of the world’s most common killers, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity, all while boosting the immune system to help fight ailments as mundane as the common cold. In fact,, the U.S. National Library of Medicine run by the National Institutes of Health, includes about 5,000 garlic research studies. 

It’s amazing that something as simple as garlic could confer so many possible disease-repelling and life-extending benefits. Garlic owes its multifaceted health properties to the fact that “it’s such a potent antimicrobial (for most microbes), a great antioxidant (useful for good cardiovascular health) and a nice digestive stimulant,” says Sheila Kingsbury, a licensed naturopathic physician and chair of botanical medicine at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Kenmore, Washington. In studies performed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers found that eating garlic helps boost our natural supply of hydrogen sulfide, an antioxidant that transmits cellular signals that relax the blood vessels and increase blood flow, The New York Times reports. This increased hydrogen sulfide production may explain garlic’s ability to protect the heart and help ward off a variety of cancers.

Kingsbury frequently uses garlic therapeutically with her patients. She often uses it in conjunction with probiotics to treat gastrointestinal yeast or, which is an imbalance in intestinal bacteria. She also employs garlic for cardiovascular health to improve lipid status (fat levels in the blood) and circulation. Kingsbury prefers freeze-dried encapsulated garlic or chopped raw garlic, usually mixed into salad dressing or other foods to make it more palatable.

“I also will have patients take garlic internally to treat a variety of infections,” she says. “I have many stories of various skin infections resolved with garlic.”



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