Known as both a medicinal herb and a food, garlic is touted for its numerous healing properties. Supplementation can be beneficial if ingesting raw or cooked garlic causes stomach irritation, bad breath or body odor.
Five Medical Uses for Garlic
There are a variety of uses for the garlic that you grow in your garden or pick up at the grocery store.
The Common Cold
Garlic has long been considered an "antibiotic" of sorts, with microbe-killing capabilities. Known as a bacteria, virus, fungi and parasite killer, garlic has been the focus of many studies against these microorganisms. A study published by the National Institute of Health revealed garlic's cold fighting abilities when studied against placebos. This study revealed those treated with garlic supplementation had significantly fewer colds over a 12-week period.
While garlic has received much attention for its germ killing capabilities, even more studies have been done revolving around garlic and its role in decreasing heart disease. According to a Tufts University study, highlighted in The Journal of Nutrition, garlic supplementation has shown to help lower blood pressure and prevent blood clots, which can help reduce the incidence of heart attack and stroke. Regarding the prevention of blood clots, garlic seems to decrease the stickiness of platelets in the blood (sticky platelets clog arteries by attaching to the walls of arteries).
Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH) and Prostate Cancer
A study highlighted in Nutrition Research Journal stated that garlic extract "leads to significant improvement in patients with BPH and Prostate Cancer." This study specifically showed prostate mass in those with BPH to be lowered, urinary frequency decreased, and total and free PSA values significantly lowered as well.
Another study by Tufts University studied garlic and its role in helping to prevent dementia. Researchers found that garlic supplementation may help prevent cognitive decline by protecting neurons from neuronal-death, improving memory retention and learning.
A Department of Pharmacology study, highlighted by the National institute of Medicine, was conducted to determine if garlic would reduce symptoms of type 2 diabetes in patients. After 24 weeks, this study showed a decrease in fasting blood sugars in those taking garlic supplementation, compared to no change in those taking the placebo. The study also showed a decrease in mean total cholesterol in those taking supplementation, as opposed to no change in the placebo group. The conclusion was a combination of typical anti-diabetic medication, along with garlic supplementation, results in good management of patients with diabetes and lower blood sugar.
Garlic at a Glance
Allicin, the main compound produced by garlic, gives way to its distinctive odor and is the chemical behind its medicinal use. When purchasing garlic supplements, pay attention to manufacturers that claim their product is "odorless." Odorless garlic formulas are often aged, reducing the amount of allicin and potentially deeming the product ineffective for alternative medicine use. Some manufacturers will use methods that crush the garlic clove, increasing the amount of allicin in the product. Look for garlic supplements that state an allicin potential of at least 6,000 mcg.
Potential Side Effects
The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states numerous side effects from garlic consumption. These include:
- Breath and body odor
- Upset stomach
- Allergic reactions
- Spontaneous bleeding or thin blood
Possible Garlic/Medication Interactions
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the following medications can interact with garlic supplementation. It is advised that you speak with a health care provider if you take any of the following:
- Antiplatelet medication, such as indomethacin, Plavix, aspirin or dipyridamole
- Blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin or aspirin
- Protease inhibitors for HIV, such as indinavir, saquinavir, and ritonavir
Drugs.com lists 25 brand and generic drugs that have major interactions with garlic.
Always Speak with Your Doctor
If you currently take any blood thinners, aspirin remedies, or medication for HIV, it is extremely important that you speak with your doctor before starting a garlic regimen. Although the National Institutes of Health states that garlic supplementation is considered safe for consumption by most adults, herbal supplements are not subject to approval by the FDA. It is always a good idea to let your physician know what supplements you take on a regular basis.