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What Are the Pros and Cons of Garlic as an Antibiotic?

By Megan Shoop
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Raw garlic contains allicin, a potent substance that reportedly gives garlic its astringent and antibiotic properties. Garlic has long been used to clean wounds and treat illnesses, especially those of the lungs and throat. Proponents of using garlic as an antibiotic cite it as inexpensive, widely available, absent of artificial substances, and fast-acting. A few cons of using garlic in this way include loss of good bacteria in the digestive system, stomach upset, halitosis during treatment, and possible interference with blood medications.

Garlic antibiotics come in several forms. The commercial form is usually a gel capsule containing pureed garlic and some kind of nut oil. Other forms are little more than the raw cloves of garlic available at grocery stores. The simplest way to take whole cloves as medicine is to eat them raw. This may not be palatable to many, so herbalists have designed several other preparations that may be more pleasant.

Cooking garlic sometimes destroys the allicin and eliminates its antibiotic effects. Steeping garlic cloves in warm water helps keep the allicin intact and leaches it into the water. This garlic tea may be drunk by itself or added to soups. Some may enjoy grinding the garlic into a paste and spreading it on toast. Still others may find success with adding chopped cloves to equal parts grain alcohol and water. Letting this mixture steep in the sun for up to 24 hours creates a concentrated tincture that may be added to teas, several drops at a time.

The astringent allicin starts working on infections and illnesses very quickly because garlic is usually jam-packed with it. A single bulb of garlic usually costs less than prescription antibiotics. Those that often use garlic in cooking may find that garlic as an antibiotic upsets their stomachs less than concentrated prescription drugs.

There are a few negatives to using garlic as an antibiotic. The most immediate is the odor. Eating raw garlic almost always leaves a distinct odor in the mouth, which may be unpleasant to the patient and to those interacting with him or her. The second con is that those unused to eating raw garlic may find that it upsets their stomachs quite a bit. Taking garlic cloves or capsules with food or milk may alleviate both of these side-effects.

Another con to using garlic in this way involves the good bacteria in the digestive tract. Garlic is an indiscriminate antibiotic, meaning it will kill both infectious and helpful bacteria. Those taking garlic as an antibiotic should also take a probiotic supplement or consume yogurt to keep their intestines healthy.

Some prescription medicines, particularly blood thinners and those meant to treat blood that won’t clot, may be affected by garlic. As a natural blood thinner, it may have dangerous side-effects to those with anemia or who are already taking blood-thinning drugs. People thinking about taking garlic as an antibiotic should always consult a doctor before beginning a new regimen. The doctor will be able to tell if taking garlic is safe and may prescribe dosage amounts.

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Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Dec 18, 2013

I don't mind taking garlic capsules, or even eating them raw. But some women use garlic to fight vaginal yeast infections, and they actually put a raw garlic clove into the vagina. A friend of mine used this method and she claims that it worked for her. I would never do this because I'm sure that the acids in the garlic will be irritating. I'd rather eat it and let it do its job internally.

By candyquilt — On Dec 18, 2013

@literally45-- Whenever my dad is sick, he takes a lot of fresh garlic to boost his immune system and fight any infections. He does eat a lot of it, but he literally takes small cloves and swallows them like pills with water. I don't know if this affects the effectiveness of garlic, but it's an easy way to eat them.

If you cook, just try to add as much garlic as possible to dishes that call for it. Or just get some garlic supplements. Many people take antibiotics for even the mildest infections but antibiotics harm digestive flora. Bacteria also become resistant to antibiotics over time. There are no such risks with garlic.

By literally45 — On Dec 18, 2013

Garlic is a great antibiotic, but I think that a lot of it is needed for it to work. Some sources recommend 6-8 cloves of fresh garlic daily. I could never consume that much fresh garlic.

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