We think of garlic as an herb, but garlic is actually a vegetable and an ancient one, at that. Garlic has been used medicinally for thousands of years. In “modern times” 18th-century French gravediggers drank crushed garlic in wine believing it would protect them from the plague. In 1858 French scientist Louis Pasteur confirmed that garlic has antibacterial effects, and during World Wars I and II, soldiers were given garlic to prevent gangrene, and garlic was used as an antiseptic to prevent wound infections.
We’re still learning about garlic’s many powers. A study from China published in Cancer Prevention Research suggests that eating raw garlic twice a week can protect against lung cancer, even among smokers (the researchers didn’t evaluate the effect on cancer risk of cooked garlic). Here’s more about garlic’s amazing health benefits:
- More cancer prevention: The Chinese study isn’t the first to show that the garlic in your diet can be cancer-protective. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) several population studies have shown an association between increased intake of garlic and reduced risk of certain cancers, including those of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, and breast. NCI reports that data from seven population studies showed that the higher the amount of raw and cooked garlic consumed, the lower the risk of stomach and colorectal cancer. Garlic’s health effects are attributed to allicin, a compound that is also responsible for the pungent smell; its anti-cancer effects may also be due to garlic’s antibacterial properties as well as its ability to block formation of cancer-causing substances, enhance DNA repair, reduce cell proliferation or induce cell death. The World Health Organization health guidelines call for a daily dose of approximately one clove of fresh garlic. Try my Hearty Chicken Stew, which includes garlic, as does Asian Fusion Chicken Salad.
- Good for Your Heart: Garlic may help prevent heart disease by slowing down atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and helping to lower blood pressure. It also appears to act as a blood thinner, which may help prevent strokes as well as heart attacks, and may help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol.
- Keeps Away Colds: In a British study participants took either garlic supplements or placebo for 12 weeks during the November to February cold season. Those who took garlic had fewer colds, and even when they did catch cold, their symptoms didn’t last as long as those in the placebo group.
- Boosts Brain Function: Compounds in garlic cause blood vessels to relax and dilate, increasing blood flow to the brain and improving brain function. And some evidence suggests that garlic can help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.