The word "garlic" comes from an Old English term that means “spear leek” but the bulb itself was first cultivated in central Asia about 6,000 years ago. This plant, which can grow about two feet in height, is made up of anywhere from four to 20 cloves. Each clove weighs about one gram and is used mainly as an ingredient in cooking. Garlic supplements are also very popular and are made from garlic that is dried, fresh, aged or oiled.
From the time it was discovered, garlic has been used in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean region both as a food and a medicine. Interestingly, it was the food that the Egyptians fed mainly on when they were building the pyramids. Many say that if not for garlic, the pyramids may not have been finished.
Egyptians also worshipped this plant. They put clay molds of garlic bulbs in King Tut's tomb. Not only that, there was also a time when they used it as currency. Legends also have it that ancient people believed that garlic repelled the Evil Eye, vampires and jealous nymphs.
During the early 18th century in France, diggers of graves consumed garlic wine as protection from the plague that claimed the lives of thousands of people in Europe. Soldiers who fought during the World War I and World War II ate garlic for the prevention of gangrene.
In the United States, garlic wasn’t that popular at first. Until the first quarter of the 20th century, garlic wasn’t widely accepted probably because of its pungent smell that left people with bad breath. But in 1940, Americans finally welcomed this bulb both as an ingredient in recipes and a medicinal herb for various health problems. It's currently used for the prevention of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and weak immune system. Americans make use of more than 250 million pounds of garlic every year.
Allicin is a chemical found inside the cloves of garlic. Researchers have found that this is what’s responsible for its health benefits and even the distinct strong odor. But apart from that, there are other chemicals like sulfur-containing compounds that also provide a host of health benefits.
Garlic is also abundant in antioxidants that fight free radicals. Free radicals, which are particles that cause damage to the DNA and cell membrane, bring a number of health problems like cancer and heart disease. They also contribute to the aging process, making you look older than you should. Antioxidants are potent neutralizers of free radicals, reducing and preventing damage that they inflict on the body.
Some of the conditions that garlic may help protect against include the following:
Heart disease -- Various studies have found that garlic may help prevent the development or onset of a heart disease. For one, it can lower blood pressure level by seven to eight percent. It can also slow down the development of atherosclerosis, which is a condition that involves hardening of the arteries.
In one study that ran for four years, people who consumed 900 mg of garlic powder every day had significantly lower risk of developing atherosclerosis. It appears that garlic has anticoagulant powers. In simpler terms, it thins the blood to help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Common Cold -- There is also some evidence that points out garlic’s preventative benefit for the common cold. A study that involved two groups of people, one group taking garlic supplement and the other a placebo for 12 weeks during the common cold season from November to February, revealed that those who consumed garlic had much fewer colds. Even if some of them did catch the virus, symptoms went away faster than those who are on placebo.
Cancer -- Since garlic can strengthen the body’s immune system, it can help in preventing cancer. Studies show that garlic appears to have anti-cancer activity. There are also findings that suggest that those who consume garlic, either raw or cooked, are at less risk of certain forms of cancer such as stomach and colon cancers. There is a 30 percent risk reduction of colon cancer among people who regularly eat garlic.
The Iowa Women’s Health Study looked at the diets of about 40,000 middle-aged women. This study revealed that those who included garlic as well as fruits and vegetables in their diet were 35 percent at less risk of colon cancer.
It's also important to note that garlic also helps a person even when he already has cancer. A study that involved 50 people with inoperable liver, colon and pancreatic cancer showed that their immune activity tremendously improved after taking garlic extract for the duration of six months.
Many people want to enjoy the health benefits of garlic but are turned off by its strong smell. The solution for this problem would be to take garlic supplements. However, not all garlic supplements available in the market contain the same amount of active ingredients. Because of this, it’s a must to read the label of the product before purchase. Be sure to follow the instructions of a health care provider for taking in these supplements.
For children, it’s best to ask a pediatrician first before giving garlic supplements since studies have not yet established the safe and effective dosage for young ones. For adults, recommended daily dosages are two to four grams of fresh minced garlic clove, 600 to 1,200 mg of aged garlic extract in divided doses, 200 mg of freeze-dried garlic tablets, 4 mm of fluid extract, 20 mm of tincture and 0.03 to 0.12 mm of garlic oil.
Garlic is beneficial but it's not without any side effects. Most of these are only minor so you don’t need to worry much about them. It’s just good that you know what they are. Possible side effects include bloating, upset stomach, bad breath and stinging sensation on skin. Garlic may also interfere with some prescription medicines so it’s imperative to consult your doctor if you’re taking any medications.
Needless to say, garlic is a medicinal wonder that has helped improved the lives of so many people. Enjoy the perks of this plant yourself either by including it in your recipes more often or by taking a good quality garlic supplement.