The Cleveland Clinic puts garlic on its list of 36 power foods, and for good reason. Garlic is a rich source of phytochemicals. These plant chemicals are thought to ward off disease and help boost your immune system.
So-called “power foods” provide loads of nutrients but little calories. That translates into lots of potential benefits for your body and overall health. Eating nutrient-rich foods as part of your regular diet can help lower your risk of many health conditions, including heart disease and certain kinds of cancer.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), garlic has traditionally been used to treat many health conditions, including:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
- different types of cancer
Some of these folk uses for garlic have been supported by modern scientific studies, while the jury is still out on others.
Research suggests that garlic may help lower your blood pressure, reports the NCCIH. Taking garlic supplements may be especially helpful if you have chronically high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Raw garlic and garlic supplements contain the compound allicin. This compound may help relax the smooth muscles in your blood vessels. When those muscles relax, your blood vessels dilate and blood pressure drops.
In addition to possibly lowering blood pressure, the NCCIH reports that garlic may slow the development of atherosclerosis. This is a condition in which cholesterol-containing plaques build up in your arteries. They harden and narrow, which raises your risk of heart attack.
Researchers have also examined the effect of garlic on blood cholesterol levels. The results have been mixed. Some evidence suggests that short-term garlic use may help lower your cholesterol levels. But an NCCIH-funded study on fresh garlic, dried garlic tablets, and aged garlic extract tables found no effect for lowering blood cholesterol.
Some research suggests that eating garlic may help prevent certain kinds of cancer, reports the National Cancer Institute. For example, studies have found a link between a diet rich in garlic and lower risk of stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, and breast cancers.
While this research is promising, no clinical trials have explored the potential cancer-fighting perks of a garlic-rich diet, warns the NCCIH. A clinical trial on garlic supplements found that they had no effect on preventing stomach cancer.
When it comes to killing the common cold virus, garlic has a good reputation. But a review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that more research is needed. One trial did find that people who took garlic supplements reported spending fewer days sick with the common cold.
Outside of bad breath or flatulence, the risks of eating garlic or taking garlic supplements are low. Garlic can cause body odor, heartburn, or upset stomach in some people, according to the NCCIH. It can thin your blood, which may be risky if you have a bleeding disorder or upcoming surgery. It can also interfere with saquinavir, a drug used to treat HIV. Ask your doctor for more information about potential risks and side effects of taking garlic for your health.
Although the strong garlic flavor can be wonderful in food, you may not love its effects on your breath. To help ward off bad breath from garlic, eat it with an apple or a mix of apple vinegar and water with honey. A lemon wedge may also do the trick.
To add more garlic to your diet, try this simple recipe. Add four cloves of garlic to your juicer, along with two tomatoes and a lemon. If you don’t have a juicer, manually juice the lemon. Then mix the lemon juice, tomatoes, and garlic in a blender until smooth.
Keep this delicious juice or smoothie refrigerated. Sip on it daily, especially when you’re fighting infection. You can also add more garlic to your diet by putting it in vinaigrettes, hummus, salsas, and stir-fries.
Although more research is needed, modern science suggests that garlic may have health benefits. This research is building on centuries of traditional medicine and home remedies that have harnessed garlic’s health-promoting powers.
Garlic may not be a cure-all, but it makes a nutrient-rich addition to any diet. Adding it to your daily menu is a delicious way to enjoy the many nutrients and phytochemicals it offers. You can also talk to your doctor for more information about the potential benefits and risks of taking garlic supplements.