(NaturalNews) Garlic is probably nature's most potent food. It is one of the reasons people who eat the Mediterranean diet live such long healthy lives. Garlic is also a powerful performer in the research lab. Several new studies have documented its ability to promote heart and cardiovascular health, prevent and treat cancer, and create a healthy lipid profile. Others have shown garlic prevents platelet aggregation and reduces high blood pressure. Garlic has strong anti-inflammatory properties. One of the most interesting of the recent findings is that garlic increases the overall antioxidant levels of the body.
Garlic decreased serum glucose and blood pressure while increasing antioxidants
The chain of events leading to vascular disease in people with diabetes and high blood pressure is characterized by free radical damage. Scientists at the University of Kuwait were interested in finding out whether garlic could reduce free radical damage. They measured total serum antioxidants in diabetic and hypertensive rats before and after treatment with garlic. An analogue of vitamin E, glutathione, and vitamin C were measured, and measurement was verified with reliability and reproducibility coefficients.
After three weeks of treatment with garlic extract, the serum levels of antioxidants were significantly higher than the pretreatment levels in both diabetic and hypertensive rats. The increased serum antioxidant levels were paralleled by a decrease in serum glucose in the garlic-treated diabetic rats, and lowered systolic blood pressure in the garlic-treated hypertensive rats, showing that treatment with garlic can increase total antioxidant status. This study was reported in the February 20th Evidenced Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Garlic has a long history as a healer
Scientifically known as Allium sativa, garlic has been famous throughout history for its ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. Louis Pasteur noted in 1858 that bacteria died when they were doused with garlic. From the Middle Ages on, garlic has been used to treat wounds, being ground or sliced and applied directly to wounds to inhibit the spread of infection. The Russians refer to garlic as Russian penicillin.
Since ancient times, garlic has been a popular remedy for intestinal disorders, flatulence, worms, respiratory infections, skin diseases, symptoms of aging, and many other ailments. Albert Schweitzer used it to treat cholera and typhus. In France, farmers even fed garlic and onions to their horses to dissolve clots in the animals' legs.
A number of the new studies on garlic that have recently appeared deal with garlic and cancer. One from the Republic of Korea cites diallyl disulfide (DADS) as the most prevalent oil-soluble sulfur compound in garlic, inhibiting cell proliferation in many cell lines. Scientists there examined DADS ability to kill cells in a process involving free radical production. They found that the famous tumor suppressor gene, p53, arrested the cell cycle when DADS treatment was present. Cancer cells died following 24 hour DADS treatment that activated the p53 gene. They also found that DADS induced cell death was prevented by treatment with a compound known to prevent p53 dependent cell death by reducing free radical levels in the mitochrondria, the cellular furnaces. Their results showed that mitochrondrial free radicals may serve as second messengers in DADS-induced cell death, which requires activation of p53. This study can be found in the January Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology.
Diallyl disulfide is not the most potent compound found in garlic, but it has an advantage because it is the less volatile of the compounds. DADS does not degrade as quickly and its health benefits survive cooking. Garlic needs to be chopped or crushed to produce the these sulfides. If it is cooked whole, it loses most of its medicinal value and health benefits.
DADS is a potent booster of the immune system, and improves blood quality and circulation. It has been shown in studies to lower LDL cholesterols levels, and through this action may help keep the heart and cardiovascular system healthy.
Another recent study, reported in the March Mutation Research, revealed the action through which garlic decreases genetic mutations and reduces the number of small and large papillary lung tumors.
And yet another new study involved lymphocytes which are responsible for the immune response. There are two main types of lymphocytes, B cells and T cells. While B cells make antibodies that attack bacteria and toxins, T cells attack body cells themselves when they have become cancerous. Scientists in the Republic of China studied the effects of garlic on the balance of two T helper cell subtypes. Th1 and Th2. Rats were given garlic oil or corn oil every other day for two weeks. Their cervical lymph nodes were collected to assay the lymphocyte proliferation rate and the production of cancer killing cytokines. Garlic oil enhanced the lymphocyte proliferation rate accompanied by an elevated production of all four cytokines when given at a dose of 100mg/kg.
Allicin is garlic's most potent compound
Allicin is the compound providing the largest range of garlic's health benefits. Allicin also does not occur in garlic cloves, but is produced when garlic is finely chopped or crushed. The finer the chopping and the more intense the crushing, the more allicin is produced and the stronger is the medicinal effect.
Allicin has both antibiotic and anti-fungal properties, and made garlic a favorite in folk medicine for treating skin infections such as athlete's foot. Allicin is potent stuff. Too much exposure to garlic can result in blistered skin.
Allicin starts to degrade immediately after it is produced, so a person seeking to reap its full medicinal benefits should use it immediately after crushing it. Cooking increases the degradation of allicin, and microwaving completely destroys allicin and eliminates any health benefits.
To gain the optimal in medicinal effects, garlic should be crushed and added to food immediately before serving.
Garlic is a beauty aid
The high sulfur content in garlic makes it able to tone up the skin and make hair more lustrous. Garlic helps make skin smooth and supple, and strengthens nails. The sulfur in garlic works with B complex vitamins to support body metabolism, helping to keep people looking trim. It helps keep youthful elasticity in tissues, and helps treat and prevent dandruff.
Garlic is an excellent source of the cancer fighting mineral selenium. Selenium works synergistically with vitamin E to boost antioxidant power and prevent or slow signs of aging and hardening of tissues through oxidation. Selenium is critical for the production of glutathione peroxidase, the body's primary antioxidant that is found in every cell. Males are especially sensitive to selenium levels. Almost half their body's supply concentrates in the testicles and portions of the seminal ducts adjacent to the prostate gland. Selenium is lost in the semen and should be replenished daily.
Always buy organic garlic when possible
When buying garlic, make sure the bulbs are dry with plenty of papery covering. If any green shoots are present, the garlic is old and its valuable compounds have degraded. Garlic sold in traditional outlets has been chemically treated to keep it from sprouting, so technically it is no longer a live food. Always buy organic garlic when possible.
The stronger the taste of the garlic, the more sulfur content it has and therefore the greater are the medicinal benefits. Organic garlic tends to have a stronger but finer flavor than conventionally produced garlic, suggesting a higher sulfur content.
Supplements are another way to get garlic's benefits
Many people who do not like the taste of garlic or who do not do much cooking rely on garlic supplements. Aged garlic extract is reported to have many of the benefits found in raw garlic, including liver protection, immune-enhancement, and cancer blocking actions. It also exhibits potent antioxidant activities.
As the name implies, the extract is aged for up to twenty months. Over this time period the harsh and irritating compounds in garlic are converted naturally into stable and safe sulfur compounds. Aged garlic extract contains primarily water-soluble sulfur compounds as well as a smaller amount of a variety of oil-soluble sulfur compounds. Aged garlic extract has been found safe in toxicological studies.
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.