Monday, June 16, 2008

many health benefits of garlic

I consider garlic (Allium sativum) a good remedy for almost anything that ails you. Yes, I've heard plenty of jokes about its odor keeping away vampires, or at the very least, your friends. But more important are the bacterial, viral and fungal infections that garlic fends off. This humble bulb has been shown to improve digestion, enhance the immune system and liver, and is good for the heart, circulation, and eyes. It is considered a tonic in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines, and its use is also backed by science. Herbalist and acupuncturist Christopher Hobbs, author of numerous herb books, recently surveyed the literature on garlic and unearthed over 2,000 scientific articles. The consensus of these articles is that garlic is one of the most important medicinal herbs we have. Not bad for a bulb often dubbed the "stinking rose."

Preventing heart disease

Garlic and garlic-derived supplements can help reduce the risk of heart disease in several important ways. Garlic lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, lessens destructive oxidation and decreases the formation of blood clots. It also slows hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis) and helps maintain their elasticity. At the same time, garlic decreases troublesome symptoms of atherosclerosis, such as poor circulation, fatigue and headaches.

Garlic's clot-reducing capability takes about three to four hours to peak and remains effective about a day, making garlic a reasonable substitute for taking aspirin to prevent clotting, provided your healthcare practitioner approves. In one study with 200 people who had heart attacks, garlic reduced the likelihood of another attack occurring in the next three years by two-thirds. Also, doctors used to think that once plaque developed in the arteries, it was there to stay, but new evidence, such as the results of a controlled, double-blind, placebo study at Humboldt University in Berlin, shows garlic and garlic-derived supplements can clean up existing plaque. This happens even when there are other risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or smoking.

When researcher Dr. Arun Bordia was working in Udaipur, India, he noticed the near absence of heart disease despite the population's habit of dousing their vegetables with butter. He also saw that they ate lots of garlic and wondered if there was a connection. Bordia discovered that when research volunteers dined on butter, their cholesterol levels fell, providing they ate garlic along with it. Take away the garlic, and cholesterol levels jumped. One way to achieve an even more dramatic drop is to decrease the use of butter and other concentrated fats and, of course, eat garlic. High cholesterol levels are lowered by garlic an average ten percent. In some cases, the drop is double that. In fact, the greater the blood cholesterol, the better garlic works.

By the way, thinning the blood is beneficial when trying to avoid blood clots, but can mean trouble if you need your blood to clot during surgery. Also, combining anticoagulant drugs with medicinal doses of garlic can thin blood too much, so work with your healthcare practitioner.

Purple power

The latest news on garlic is that red-purple tinged varieties are extra good for your heart (something Chinese herbalists have been saying for ages). The coloring is produced by anthocyanidins. These highly medicinal substances also color red wine, purple bilberries and blueberries, and make them super antioxidants that protect against heart disease, tone blood vessels and improve circulation. Of over a dozen red varieties, garlic connoisseurs rank Spanish Roja and Creole Red as two of the tastiest. Even the skin of garlic is good for the heart, so be sure to include it if you make your own garlic tincture or vinegar.

Antibiotic action

Garlic's compounds also have antibacterial and antifungal properties. I've seen garlic fight off all sorts of infections, including those of the lung, sinus, bladder, and vagina, as well as colds and flu. Garlic is a practical remedy used both internally and externally to treat fungal and bacterial skin infection.

Relatively low quantities of garlic--say one clove a day--have been shown to improve digestion and reduce intestinal bacterial infection, even dysentery. In a Chinese study, drinking a daily tea made by soaking three crushed cloves in two cups of water cured 80 percent of patients with diarrhea in a week. Garlic also helps knock out intestinal worms and other parasites.

According to Dr. Paul Sherman, a Cornell University behavioral scientist, humans have evolved a taste for spicy foods such as garlic because the foods kill the germs that cause spoilage. He looked at 5,000 traditional recipes from 36 countries and found that the hotter the climate and the faster food spoils, the spicier the seasoning. When he examined 43 spices for their ability to destroy germs, garlic and onions killed all 30 types of bacteria associated with digestive problems.