Garlic, in addition to being a tasty food flavoring ingredient, has several surprising extra health benefits and has been used for centuries medicinally. Claimed health benefits of garlic include cardiovascular health benefits, better regulation of blood sugar, reduction in certain types of cancer and infection-preventing properties.
The cardiovascular effects of consuming garlic have been examined with a plethora of controlled scientific studies. Garlic shows promising results for improving atherosclerosis of the arteries, but studies have mixed results about whether garlic can reduce high “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood significantly. Garlic may also reduce the risk of developing blood clots, reduce triglyceride levels in the blood and perform better than a placebo as an anti-hypertension (high blood pressure) medication. Garlic also may help diabetics exhibit more control over their blood sugar levels and prevent certain diabetic complications. Garlic may have a preventative effect on cancers that affect the gastrointestinal tract; at least a correlation between populations that consume large amounts of garlic and a lowered rate of gastrointestinal cancer types, such as colon cancer or stomach cancer, exists. Garlic also contains large amounts of the vitamin ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, and increases the absorption of thiamin, also known as vitamin B1, into the body.
The potential cardiovascular health benefits of garlic are the most well-known health benefits of the plant. An interesting property of the compounds found within garlic is their ability to prevent bacterial growth. These properties were not necessarily recently discovered, as garlic has been used historically as an antiseptic for these purposes after Louis Pasteur and the advent of the germ theory of disease. Modern scientific investigations of garlic’s antibacterial properties have shown that the plant compounds do in fact have potent antibacterial and fungicidal properties. Garlic is extremely effective at killing bacteria in a petri dish in the lab, but it is not known how effective it is as an antibiotic when consumed orally. Garlic has been used topically to prevent wounds from becoming infected and to help control fungal infections of the mouth, such as thrush. It is possible that garlic-based compounds will eventually be used as an effective new antibiotic for MRSA infections, but more scientific data is required to determine if garlic compounds are as effective as standard antibiotics in vivo. If this did happen, MRSA would not yet be immune to these compounds, giving us another weapon in the arsenal against multi-drug resistant bacterial strains.
For the time being, garlic can be used as a supplement to help prevent infections and cardiovascular complications. However, be sure to tell your doctor about all supplements that you are taking before new medications are prescribed. Anyone who has an active infection, especially a MRSA infection, should seek immediate medical attention to prevent serious complications from occurring. Infections that spread systemically are extremely dangerous, and if they are untreated for too long, organ failure, septic shock and death may occur. No supplement is enough to treat a serious health condition alone; some can be used in conjunction with medical treatments or as preventative measures. If you have any questions, talk to your doctor about which health supplements are safe and effective.