Health Benefits of Garlic

Enrich your life by adding garlic supplements

| November/December 1998


  • Garlic comes in many forms—including fresh cloves. Garlic is the bulb of Allium sativum and is a member of the onion family; it has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years, and wild garlic probably disappeared long ago. Pictured at left is a small sampling of garlic products available on the market, including, from top to bottom and according to the product labels: garlic oil capsules; a children’s multi-vitamin plus garlic; allicin-rich, odorless, concentrated garlic powder in capsules; organic, “wild,” odorless garlic powder capsules; enteric-coated, odorless garlic capsules; garlic oil capsules; and garlic powder sold in bulk at health-food stores.


Garlic is a handy herb to have around during the winter holidays. According to most research to date, not only does it help lower cholesterol, but it also apparently acts as a natural antibiotic, fighting bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. Some say garlic is as effective as penicillin, tetracycline, streptomycin, and other prescription medications.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But with the array of garlic products on the market, not to mention the thriving belief that eating fresh garlic is the only way to obtain its health benefits, consumers may be bewildered when choosing their garlic preparation. Although the jury is still out on which form is best and, indeed, a bit of an industry “garlic war” has ensued, consumers can still make wise choices. To that end, a little background information may be helpful.

A Test of Time, a Body of Research

Ancient Egyptian and Chinese populations used garlic in various ways, such as to fight infection and cure respiratory ­ailments. Greek and Roman healers, including Hippocrates, all believed in its ability to heal. Eighteenth and nineteenth century European physicians explored its healing powers using then-new scientific knowledge and prescribed it in much the same way as their ancient predecessors.

But back then, garlic didn’t come in pills and researchers didn’t use high-tech scientific tools to examine its every particle. Today, however, it’s a different story. More than 2,500 research articles on garlic have been published in the past century, with more than 1,000 of them appearing within the last two decades, according to one author. The focuses of the research are wide-ranging, documenting garlic’s potential not only to fight infection, but also to prevent or delay the four leading causes of death in the United States—heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and liver disease.



Not all of the research has been positive, however. One report appearing in the June 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association put garlic’s ability to impact cholesterol levels in question, although the findings were disputed by many herb experts. They countered that the product used in the study had been shown in previous tests to be less effective than other types of garlic preparations.

Herb-watchers are particularly excited by what the research has to say about garlic’s antibiotic potential. One reason for this is that some pathogenic bacteria are becoming resistant to widely used prescription antibiotics, which are either naturally occurring or synthetically derived. Their strength was that they were developed to attack specific kinds of harmful bacteria. But some bacteria have developed their own ways of resisting attack, so the quest for more naturally occurring, less specifically targeted antibiotics has ensued.






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