Known as the “Cancer-Fighting King,” Garlic has long been regarded as a miraculous healing herb. The National Cancer Institute in the United States ranks garlic at the top of the cancer-fighting vegetable pyramid.
Epidemiological studies have shown that garlic has anti-tumor properties, reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer’s disease, and even helps eliminate heavy metals such as lead from the body. As early as 1550 BCE, the Egyptian Ebers Codex recorded the use of garlic as a remedy for heart disease, tumors, and headaches.
Garlic’s primary, active compound is allicin. Allicin stimulates gastric juice secretion, improves appetite, aids digestion, possesses antibacterial and antiparasitic properties, and is known to prevent cancer. Additional components of garlic include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and trace elements such as zinc, magnesium, copper, selenium, and iodine. Garlic also contains vitamins B1, B6, and C, carotene, and volatile oils. Purple-skinned garlic is considered to be more effective than white-skinned garlic when eaten in its raw form.
Seven Health Benefits of Garlic
1. Prevention and Treatment of Tumors and Cancer
Dr. Jianhua Li, a Japanese traditional medicine practitioner, said in an interview with the Epoch Times that garlic tops the list of plants with the most potent anti-cancer potential. Garlic’s health benefits include its natural antibiotic properties, which can inhibit bacterial growth, and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects—all of which contribute to cancer prevention.
A study conducted in 1994 by the University of Minnesota involving more than 40,000 women aged 55 to 69 found that regular consumption of garlic, fruits, and vegetables reduced the risk of colon cancer by 30 percent.
A study published in Nutrients revealed that consuming raw garlic at least twice a week was associated with a lower risk of liver cancer compared to those who consumed garlic less than twice a week or not at all.
Stratified analyses showed that the protective association between high raw garlic intake and liver cancer was observed among individuals negative for Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), frequent alcohol drinkers, individuals with a history of consuming mold-contaminated food or drinking raw water, and those without a family history of liver cancer.
These findings suggest that regular consumption of raw garlic may have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk of liver cancer, particularly in specific subgroups of individuals.
2. Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease
Garlic and its derivatives have been widely recognized as a medicinal food for preventing and treating cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, thrombosis, hypertension, and diabetes.
Several studies have identified the following cardiovascular benefits of garlic:
- Reduces vascular calcification. Aged garlic extract reduces arterial plaque or atherosclerosis, thus lowering the incidence of cardiovascular disease.
- Antiplatelet aggregation. Ajoene in garlic can interfere with blood proteins, reduce blood clot formation, and prevent blood vessel embolism.
- Cholesterol reduction. Garlic effectively lowers total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by 10 percent, reducing the likelihood of vascular hardening.
- Vasodilation. Garlic increases nitric oxide production by endothelial cells, promoting blood vessel relaxation.
- Blood pressure reduction. A comprehensive analysis published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2016, comprising 970 participants and 20 trials, showed a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure by 8.7 ± 2.2 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.5 ± 1.6 mm Hg.
In addition, a 2015 meta-analysis indicated that garlic intake helps lower blood pressure (3.39 mm Hg decrease in diastolic blood pressure and 3.75 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure), particularly among individuals with hypertension.
3. Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease leads to memory loss and communication abilities as it progresses.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2001 by researchers in Boston, Massachusetts, demonstrated that aged garlic extract contains antioxidant phytochemicals that can prevent oxidative damage. In experiments conducted on aging mice, garlic extract enhanced cognitive function, improved memory, and extended lifespan.
4. Elimination of Lead from the Body
Lead is a heavy metal that can be present in air, soil, water, and in certain everyday household items such as cups and dishes. Prolonged exposure to lead can lead to various diseases, including kidney problems, infertility, cognitive decline, and high blood pressure.
A randomized controlled trial has shown that garlic can effectively reduce lead levels in the blood by 19 percent and improve symptoms associated with lead poisoning, such as restlessness, headaches, and high blood pressure.
Thus, garlic seems safer clinically and as effective as the heavy metal toxicity medication, d-penicillamine. The study concluded that garlic can be recommended for the treatment of mild-to-moderate lead poisoning.
5. Liver Protection
The liver is the largest organ in the human body, responsible for functions such as metabolism, detoxification, and protein synthesis in the blood.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition in which fat builds up in the liver. NAFLD encompasses a spectrum of conditions, ranging from simple steatosis (abnormal fat retention within a cell or organ) to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. Currently, there is no established pharmaceutical treatment for NAFLD, and dietary modifications are considered a primary approach to managing the disease.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition examined the effects of garlic powder supplementation on NAFLD patients. The findings indicated that supplementation with garlic powder demonstrated improvements in hepatic features and lipid profile among individuals with NAFLD. These results suggest that incorporating garlic powder as a dietary supplement may hold promise in ameliorating liver-related characteristics and lipid abnormalities associated with NAFLD.
6. Antimicrobial and Anti-inflammatory Effects
Garlic is a natural broad-spectrum antibacterial agent containing sulfur compounds with potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can inhibit and kill various bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other pathogens, making it one of the most powerful natural antimicrobial agents discovered to date.
A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food has identified four sulfur-containing compounds with anti-inflammatory properties in garlic. The chemical structures of these compounds were identified as Z-ajoene, E-ajoene, and oxidized sulfonyl derivatives of ajoene.
These sulfur compounds were found to inhibit the production of nitric oxide and prostaglandin E2, as well as the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The findings suggest that the sulfur compounds derived from garlic have potential therapeutic benefits as anti-inflammatory agents.
7. Cold Prevention
Garlic can boost the body’s immune system to prevent colds. A study published in Advances in Therapy reported that consuming garlic extract can effectively reduce the risk of catching a cold by 63 percent and even reduce the duration of cold symptoms by 70 percent, shortening the recovery period from five days to 1.5 days.
Despite garlic’s numerous benefits, avoiding excessive consumption of it is important. Raw garlic can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, leading to discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, and bad breath.
Li also advises caution for individuals with serious illnesses or those currently taking medication. According to traditional Chinese medicine, garlic belongs to a category of “heat-inducing” foods, which means it can easily trigger certain diseases or worsen existing conditions. Its potential side effects can not only exacerbate existing conditions but also interfere with the effectiveness of medications or cause adverse reactions that affect overall health.
Check with your health care provider for possible contraindications of garlic or any other herb to any medication you may be taking.