Garlic: Food and Medicine

Garlic: Fabulous Food or Mighty Medicine?

Garlic, that humble bulbous herb, is a close cousin of the onion, a fact that’s universally acknowledged. Yet, garlic’s legacy stretches far beyond its botanical kinship.

For millennia, it has been the cornerstone of culinary alchemy, an indispensable ingredient whose absence in the kitchen is as unthinkable as a chef without a knife.

The annals of garlic studies read like a saga of scientific intrigue, with claims ranging from the miraculous to the mundane. 

Some hail it as a panacea, others adopt a more cautious tone. 

Enter the latest research from the University of Alabama, which might illuminate why our understanding of garlic has been so inconsistent and underscore its well-deserved reputation as a heart health champion.

The University of Alabama’s researchers, armed with garlic and a crusher, set out to demystify these claims..

The optimistic studies extol garlic’s virtues in nearly every physiological domain. It’s a veritable Swiss Army knife of health benefits, purportedly capable of everything from detoxifying heavy metals to fending off the common cold, heart disease, and even gangrene. 

Herein lies garlic’s pièce de résistance:

Crushing a clove initiates a chemical ballet, releasing compounds believed to wield antibacterial and antifungal properties, prevent blood clots, and lower blood pressure. 

Garlic: Fabulous Food or Mighty Medicine? The resulting scientific data, dense with arcane chemical jargon, can be distilled to this: when human red blood cells encounter crushed garlic, they transform its organic polysulfides into hydrogen sulfide, a molecule that keeps blood vessels limber and quells inflammation.

Beyond this, garlic is a nutritional overachiever:

  • It’s brimming with manganese, a mineral crucial for bone health and the metabolism of amino acids, lipids, and carbohydrates.
  • It offers a bounty of Vitamin B6, essential for brain development and maintaining healthy nerves and immune function.
  • Rich in Vitamin C, garlic supports collagen synthesis, L-carnitine production, and neurotransmitter biosynthesis while also acting as a formidable antioxidant.
Garlic: Fabulous Food or Mighty Medicine?

Its cardiovascular benefits are particularly noteworthy. Garlic is reputed to manage high blood pressure and may obliterate contaminants in baby formulas, possibly even slowing the march of time itself. It’s also rich in calcium, selenium, and phosphorus.

So, garlic: fabulous food or mighty medicine? A vegetable, herb, or spice? These questions inevitably attract a plethora of opinions. Useful as both, garlic is classified as a vegetable, proudly standing alongside its allium relatives like leeks and onions.

The secret to garlic’s health benefits lies in its preparation. The key compound, hydrogen sulfide, crucial for vascular health, depends on proper garlic handling. 

Crushing garlic and allowing it to rest for 15 minutes catalyses the alchemical process. Studies focusing on LDL cholesterol miss the mark with garlic’s cardiovascular magic pertaining to blood vessel health, not cholesterol levels.

The University of Alabama’s research employed fresh, aptly prepared garlic. Yet, even dried garlic powder, if processed at low temperatures, retains its potency. 

The enzyme allinase and the compound alliin, preserved during drying, convert to allicin in the digestive tract, mirroring the effects of fresh garlic.

Garlic’s potential extends to the oncological realm. A University of South Australia study suggests garlic may thwart colorectal cancer (CRC). 

A meta-analysis of seven studies revealed a 30% reduction in CRC risk for high garlic consumers. Additionally, CRC patients incorporating aged garlic extract into their diets reported fewer and smaller colon tumours.

Previous animal studies hinted at garlic’s cancer-fighting prowess, and these new findings bolster the claim that garlic might indeed arrest cancer’s advance.

Some of the more unusual benefits:

  1. Ancient Egyptians worshipped garlic as a royal plant.
  2. In World War I, soldiers used crushed garlic in their trenches to keep mosquitoes away.
  3. The Greek physician Hippocrates said “Garlic is nature’s remedy for many diseases.”
  4. Cleopatra bathed in garlic-infused water to improve her beauty.
  5. In medieval times, garlic was placed under pillows to ward off bad dreams… and evil spirits too!
  6. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses garlic to treat colds, flu, fever, and bronchitis.

…and obviously, keeping vampires at bay is a must in any Hollywood blockbuster!

So, what do you think now? Garlic: Fabulous Food or Mighty Medicine?

Dr. Elmar Jung
Dr. Elmar Jung

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