Every woman certainly knows the disadvantage of eating raw garlic -- bad breath -- but because there seems to be many health benefits linked to the little white cloves, they could offset the social stigma of their scent. Raw garlic has a very long history of medicinal use in addition to its widespread culinary use. However, cooking and processing garlic typically reduces its potency, so stick with fresh cloves to get the most benefit out of them.
Garlic cloves have literally been used for thousands of years. Writings by ancient Greeks, such as early medical forefather Hippocrates, considered raw garlic cloves as a general cure-all and health tonic. Garlic was certainly cooked by ancient peoples, but when used medicinally as a blood cleaner, digestive aid and anti-inflammatory, it was thought best to eat it raw or consume its fresh-pressed oil. Modern analysis of garlic has revealed that its properties are in-line with how ancient peoples used the plant because it’s a good antioxidant and strong antimicrobial that destroys free radicals and many harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Probably the most potent compound in garlic is called allicin.
Due mainly to its ability to eliminate free radicals and reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, raw garlic is beneficial for blood vessels and the heart. Several scientific studies have determined a link between regular garlic consumption and reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. Garlic consumption may also raise “good” HDL cholesterol levels in your blood.
Garlic is a moderately good anti-inflammatory because it not only destroys infectious microorganisms that provoke an inflammatory response, but it also deters the formation of chemicals that tend to increase inflammation unnecessarily. In other words, some inflammation is always needed to heal injuries, but chronic inflammation produced from diseases such as arthritis is debilitating. Garlic has long been a folk remedy for different types of arthritis and auto-immune disorders, but research in this area is not currently supportive or conclusive.
Eliminating free radicals and pathogens, as well as suppressing chronic inflammation, helps your immune system conserve energy and act more effective generally, although garlic also specifically stimulates some specialized immune cells. For example, garlic stimulates lymphocytes, killer T-cells and macrophages, as well as increases blood levels of a compound called interleukin-1, which helps combat cancer and other serious disease.
The American Dietetic Association suggests eating up to one raw garlic clove per day in order to significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, cooking garlic cloves reduces their antimicrobial and immune stimulating affects. Odorless garlic pills may seem like the perfect solution to avoid bad breath, but it’s not clear if they are as effective as eating the cloves raw. If your breath is a major concern, then consider eating parsley after ingesting the raw garlic. Garlic "thins" the blood, which means it reduces blood clotting, so be cautious and seek the advice of your doctor if you are on blood thinning medications or have a blood clotting disorder.
- PDR for Herbal Medicines; PDR Medical Staff
- Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
- American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 3rd Edition; American Dietetic Association
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.