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What are the Health-Promoting Properties of Garlic?

By S. N. Smith
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Fondly termed the “stinking rose,” the humble garlic bulb has been used as both food and medicine for millennia; there is evidence that the Egyptians ate it while constructing the pyramids. In 18th century Europe, it was consumed by gravediggers and priests as a protection against the plague, and in the two World Wars, garlic was administered to soldiers as an antiseptic agent, to inhibit infection. Modern medicine is conducting research to ascertain whether the lore of its medicinal value has a scientific basis, and if so, how we can best harness its benefits to aid human health and well-being.

The garlic plant, native to Asia, is grown around the world. Related to the onion, which the plant resembles somewhat, garlic is a perennial herb that grows to a height of approximately 2 feet (60 cm). The spherical white flower head rises on a stalk directly from the bulb. For both medicinal and culinary uses, the bulb, which separates into cloves, is the important part of the plant.

One of this herb’s most compelling health-promoting properties is its use as a natural broad-spectrum antibiotic. There is some support from medical research to suggest that garlic is successful at fighting many bacteria and fungi and even certain viruses. This makes it a potential weapon against not only the common cold, but also superbugs that are resistant to other antibiotics.

Other studies reveal that garlic may be helpful in regulating cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, reducing the buildup of plaque in the arteries, and may even have some cancer-fighting properties. Medical research continues to be conducted to explore these promising areas of its beneficial effects on health. In traditional, homeopathic medicine, garlic is valued for its antioxidant, antibiotic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antiparasitic properties. Additional homeopathic uses include treating the pain of ear infections (with the oil used as an ingredient in specially prepared ear drops), soothing toothache pain, combating roundworm, and supporting respiratory health.

Garlic has many active components that contribute to its health benefits, one of the primary being allicin, which is the compound responsible for the herb's pungent aroma and is formed when it is crushed. To obtain the maximum benefit, it must be consumed raw — cooked garlic loses its antibiotic property. It may also be taken in capsule, tablet, tincture, oil, extract, or freeze-dried form.

Although the use of small amounts of fresh garlic, or quantities consumed in ordinary culinary use, is generally considered to be safe, dried, powdered, and extracted forms are considerably stronger and require more careful dosing. People suffering from bleeding disorders or who are about to undergo surgery or childbirth should avoid larger amounts of garlic. It may interact with certain medications, including diabetes medications, statins, anti-platelet medications, blood-thinning medications, protease inhibitors, and ACE inhibitors. Pregnant and lactating women may need to avoid consuming this herb in quantity. In any of these cases, a physician should be consulted before use. It can cause digestive upset and allergic reactions, and consuming even a small amount of fresh raw garlic may result in bad breath. Chewing fresh parsley may help counteract this effect.

It should be noted that all herbs contain substances that may cause undesirable side effects or interact with medications. Anyone interested in using garlic medicinally should do so only with a physician’s consent and under the supervision of a knowledgeable and reputable practitioner of homeopathic medicine.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By ysmina — On Dec 07, 2012

@anamur-- I believe that garlic can prevent and fight against cancer. It has been proven that the mineral selenium helps prevent cancer and garlic is rich in selenium. Just for that reason alone, it's a cancer fighting food.

Aside from that, garlic also strengthens the immune system and helps the immune system fight mutated cells that can develop into cancer.

Raw garlic should be a part of all of our diets. I know many people avoid it because of the smell but we need to start treating garlic as medicine and eat it regularly to maintain our health.

By serenesurface — On Dec 06, 2012
@simrin-- I'm not sure how garlic lowers blood pressure, but my friend claims it does. She's been eating pickled raw garlic with her meals to keep her blood pressure from going up too high. I'm sure a doctor can explain how that works.

I knew that garlic had cardiovascular benefits and worked like an antibiotic. But I had no idea that it helps fight against cancer too. Has anyone heard about this before?

By SteamLouis — On Dec 06, 2012
Does garlic thin blood? Is that how it lowers blood pressure?
By seag47 — On Dec 06, 2012

@wavy58 – You are right. I tried eating a raw garlic clove, and my mouth burned after the first bite. I could not get the intense flavor out, and I even tried some strong mouthwash!

So, I started taking garlic extract in capsule form instead. I get the benefits without the pain. I only take it when I'm starting to feel under the weather or when people close to me are getting sick, and it has helped keep me from getting sick so far.

If I ever do catch a cold while taking garlic pills, I will probably think it was all for nothing, though. It will be interesting to see whether or not I can stave off colds forever with garlic.

By cloudel — On Dec 05, 2012

I'm glad that garlic has health benefits, because just about every dish I cook includes it in some form! Whether I put garlic powder on the toast or minced garlic in the pasta, it seems that I inadvertently serve garlic every night.

Now that I think of it, my family rarely falls ill. Perhaps there really is something to this garlic thing! I have no problem continuing to cook it into our food, because my family has come to expect it.

Garlic really amps up the flavor of any dish. You can transform a bland meal to a tasty one by adding a little garlic into the skillet while it is still cooking.

I don't know if using olive oil helps garlic with its work in any way, but I have heard that olive oil is good for you. It stands to reason that the two could work together to do good things.

By wavy58 — On Dec 04, 2012

I can't imagine eating raw garlic as a remedy for a cold! Granted, I want to get well rather badly, but garlic is just so powerful!

I can't even chop the stuff for cooking without tearing up. I'm afraid of what would happen if I placed it in my mouth and chewed it without cooking it first.

By anon191986 — On Jun 30, 2011

I had a chest infection which followed on from a cold and would not clear up properly, so as a last resort before I visited my doctor tried garlic capsules. It worked and since then (around ten years ago now) have not had a cold or chest infection, in fact I have not been ill at all.

How much is due to continued daily use of garlic capsules or not, I do not know, but I am and will continue taking them as long as I remain so well.

By PelesTears — On Jan 12, 2011

I found the part in the article about how garlic can have a negative effect on a pregnant or lactating woman. My wife and I eat a ton of garlic, but when she became pregnant, she lost all interest for garlic to the point where the smell of it would make her sick. Her interest in garlic did not return until she stopped breastfeeding. I remember her doctor telling us that the body will naturally tell you what it wants through its cravings, so maybe this was her body's way of saying that garlic was a no-no while she was pregnant. Whatever the reason for her dislike of the pungent root, I am glad I can buy garlic again.

By chicada — On Jan 10, 2011

When I am feeling like I am coming down with a bug, I will often drink a glass of orange juice with crushed garlic. It helps especially when I feel like I am suffering from a stomach bug. I am not sure what all of garlic's benefits are, but it definitely helps me ward off flu symptoms (as well as most people...your breath will stink).

By somerset — On Mar 11, 2008

If you use garlic externally, place gauze between skin and garlic to avoid possible blistering.

Allicin in garlic, that powerful compound that gives garlic all its medicinal powers is rather unstable. First garlic needs to be chopped to release allicin, and second allicin degrades rather quickly, so you do not want chopped garlic sitting around for hours.

Heat also damages the effects of allicin. The most beneficial way to eat garlic is raw. Of course do not give up garlic in your favorite dishes, it is the prolonged heat that takes some, or all of it's medicinal benefits. For preventative purposes one clove of garlic a day will do the job.

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