Garlic is good for your health

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By Henrylito D. Tacio

Regarding Henry

Sunday, December 4, 2011


EATING a clove of garlic may not be the best thing in the world for your romantic life, but it may just be the best thing for your health’s sake.

For centuries, garlic has been the subject of mythology and folklore, from warding off vampires and evil spirits to providing courage to the fearful and strength to the weak. It was fed to the slaves of Egypt and used to embalm the pharaohs.

Garlic’s mellow taste and aroma spice up gourmet dishes the world over. Popular with health-conscious cooks because it adds flavor without fat, some people still object to the herb’s strong odor, which is known as bawang among Tagalogs and ahos among the Visayans.

From the earliest times, garlic has been used as a food. It formed part of the diet of the Israelites in Egypt (Numbers 11:5). It was consumed by the ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors and rural classes.

But garlic is not just only for cooking. In fact, it is hailed as “nature’s herbal wonder drug.”

Today, scientists all over the world are examining the folklore’s claims of garlic’s health benefits.

Charles Dickson, in an article, which appeared in The New York Times, reported: “Garlic’s higher profile has come about as a result of a multitude of recent scientific studies, all of which seem to indicate that garlic may be one of the healthiest substances you can put into your body.

“The research into garlic’s chemistry and specific disease-preventive actions has already made it a niche cure-all, and is rapidly driving it into the health mainstream,” Dickson further noted.

But the therapeutic qualities of garlic are nothing new. Sanskrit records reveal that garlic remedies were pressed into service in India 5,000 years ago, while Chinese medicine has recognized garlic’s powers for over 3,000 years.

Millenniums ago, Roman doctors planted garlic upon arriving in a new country. Roman soldiers also placed garlic between their toes to treat fungal infection. Even Louis Pasteur, who discovered penicillin, recognized the anti-bacterial powers of garlic back in 1858. During World War I, surgeons regularly used garlic juice to stop wounds turning septic.

So, what is it about garlic that makes it such a boon to our health? When cloves are chewed, crushed or cut, they release a sulphur-bearing compound called allicin -- the chemical that gives garlic its pungent aroma. And it’s the allicin that scientists have discovered is the magic ingredient thought to be responsible for garlic’s therapeutic qualities.

“Allicin is the remarkable agent that fights bacteria,” point out the editors of Super Life, Super Health. “It seems to even fight some infections that are normally resistant to antibiotics. But allicin is unstable and sensitive to heat,” the editors remind.

“Cooking garlic at high heat for a long time may destroy its beneficial effects,” warns Dr. Dr. Willie T. Ong, a medical doctor who authored several health books, including How to Live Longer.

Garlic is also rich in vitamins A, B and C; the minerals calcium, potassium and iron; and the antioxidants germanium and selenium. Antioxidants reportedly block free radicals, the potentially harmful elements that circulate in the body and may lead to cancer and heart disease.

Having a problem with cholesterol in your body? Get a health kick from garlic. Researchers have long known that large quantities of raw garlic can reduce harmful blood fats. But here’s a word of warning from Duke Robert I of Normandy: “Because garlic has the power to save from death, endure it, though it leaves behind bad breath.”

When Dr. Benjamin Lau of Loma Linda University in California gave people with moderately high blood cholesterol one gram a day of the liquid garlic extract (about one teaspoon), their cholesterol levels fell an average of 44 points in six months.

In 1993, the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians reviewed data on cholesterol and found that after just four weeks, there was a 12 percent reduction in cholesterol levels in the research groups that had taken garlic.

Scientists have also looked at the role garlic plays in helping prevent the formation of blood clots. A Canadian research team discovered the effectiveness of a garlic extract in lowering fibrinogen in the blood, which is the substance that causes clotting.

This blood-thinning quality was also observed by another group of researchers in Hamburg, Germany suggesting that garlic may be at least as effective as aspirin for keeping heart attacks at bay without causing the stomach distress often associated with aspirin.

A review of recent clinical trials, published in the Journal of Hypertension, showed that taking garlic tablets cut volunteers’ blood pressure by between one and five percent. These results led the report’s authors to conclude that taking supplements could cut the incidence of stroke by anything from 30 to 40 percent, while heart disease could be reduced by 20 to 25 percent.

In 2007, a BBC news story reported that garlic may prevent and fight the common cold.

“Garlic can actually kill germs and clear up your cold symptoms rapidly,” says Dr. Elson Haas, the author of Staying Healthy with the Seasons.

If you have sore throat, load up yourself with garlic.

“When a sore throat is caused by a virus infection, as opposed to bacteria, eating garlic can bring quicker relief,” suggests Dr. Yu-Yan Hey, a nutrition professor who researches on the healing properties of garlic.

Dr. Eleonore Blaurock-Busch, the physician behind The No-Drugs Guide to Better Health, recommends taking garlic-oil capsules six times a day.

She advises though that if the prescription causes you any adverse reaction, try another remedy.

Here’s a good news for mothers who breastfeed their babies. Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that mothers who ate 1.5 grams of garlic extract two hours before nursing got an odor in their milk that prompted infants to suck longer and possibly ingest more milk. Besides that, the babies experienced no abdominal cramps or other problems associated with spicy foods.

As stated earlier, garlic may strengthen the immune system and may help the body fight diseases such as cancer. There have been studies showing that people who eat garlic regularly (not as supplements) have a reduced risk of stomach and colon cancer, and possibly breast and prostate cancer.

A large-scale study in the United States called the Iowa Women’s Health Study looked at the garlic, fruit and vegetable consumption in 41,000 middle-aged women. Results showed that women who regularly consumed garlic, fruits and vegetables had 35 percent lower risk of developing colon cancer.

Garlic may battle breast cancer, too. Pennsylvania State researcher Dr. John A. Milner exposed rats to huge amounts of chemicals that cause cancer. Then he gave some of the rats “chow full of garlic.” The rats that ate garlicky chow had 50 percent fewer precancerous changes in their breasts.

But one beneficial aspect of this pungent little bulb with a shriveled-onion look that most people often take for granted is its ability to enhance the liver function. Dickson wrote: “Our bodies are bombarded daily by a welter of environmental hazards, from pollutants to pesticides. Not the least of garlic’s contribution may be its ability to shore up our detoxifying defenses, especially in the liver. Evidence shows that garlic not only boost overall liver function but also enhances the production of key detoxifying agents in the body.”

The US Food and Drug Administration listed garlic as “generally recognized as safe.” But despite that recognition, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore gives this warning: “Side effects from garlic include upset stomach, bloating, bad breath, body odor and a stinging sensation on the skin from handling too much fresh or dried garlic.

“Handling garlic may also cause the appearance of skin lesions,” the UMMC adds. “Other, more rare side effects that have been reported by those taking garlic supplements include headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches, dizziness described as vertigo and allergies such as an asthmatic reaction or contact dermatitis (skin rash).”

As stated earlier, garlic has blood-thinning properties. Those who are going to have surgery or deliver a baby should take note on this.

“Too much garlic can increase your risk for bleeding during or after those procedures,” the UMMC reminds. Garlic should not be taken with warfarin, antiplatelets, saquinavir, antihypertensives or hypoglycemic drugs.

But before you end reading this article, here’s a word from Dr. Ong: “To release garlic’s potent compounds, you need to mash or mince it.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 05, 2011.

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