For thousands of years, garlic has been valued for its therapeutic potential. Ancient Egyptians used to worship this pungent herb, as it had the reputation of having powers to cure almost all health problems and was believed to have extraordinary preventive properties also. In the traditional medical system, therefore, garlic was extensively used for treating all sorts of diseases from cold & flu to leprosy and haemorroids. In addition, eating it regularly was recommended to help ward off various infections. Modern science too recognizes a few of these claims. It has been substantially established that garlic, the bulb of a small plant belonging to lily family, has numerous healing properties which are due to the presence of certain sulphur compounds in its composition.
One of the herb’s important medicinal ingredients is Allicin, which helps in combating various pathogenic organisms either by killing them or by suppressing their growth. Consequently, garlic is believed to be a natural antiseptic, a strong antifungal and most importantly an antibiotic - albeit broad spectrum rather than targeted. Eating it regularly therefore, boosts up our immune system as a whole. Also, many skin conditions like warts and insect bites might respond to garlic oil or a raw garlic paste applied directly on the affected area.
More than its antibiotic properties, scientists today are focusing on garlic’s potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It has been suggested by several studies that another class of compounds in garlic i.e. Diallyl sulphides, have an ability to prevent heart disease in many ways. Most importantly diallyl sulphides improve the metabolism of cholesterol in liver, resulting in a lesser release of it, into the blood stream. Apart from helping in keeping the total blood cholesterol low, they also lower LDL levels. More so, they make thrombocytes – the blood platelets, less likely to clump together and also take part in dissolving various clot-forming proteins in the blood, hence preventing plaque buildup in the arteries. Diallyl sulphides also help in controlling blood pressure. All these factors go a long way to keep our cardiovascular system healthy. It has been observed that incidence of arteriosclerosis is very low in the communities that use garlic liberally. For instance, Italians, who frequently consume dishes like pizzas and pastas – that are rich in starchy flour and creamy cheese but eat liberal amount of garlic also, are not so prone to the usual cardiovascular problems associated with such food. Chinese too are statistically found to be less prone to heart ailments for the same reason.
Garlic is also understood to be anti carcinogenic. A team of Israeli scientists have already used this herb successfully to kill cancer cells in mice. Actually, its sulphur compounds increase the level of such enzymes in the blood that can detoxify cancer triggers. They also block the formation of nitrites, which are another cause of developing this deadly disease. Thus, garlic is believed to be effective in preventing particularly digestive and possibly breast & prostate cancers also.
How to eat Garlic?
Raw garlic is medically more beneficial, because its sulphur compounds, to some extent get destroyed on cooking. It needs to be peeled and crushed or chopped finely to produce its medicinal ingredients. Allicin, one such important ingredient, starts to degenerate immediately after its release. Its medical effectiveness therefore, keeps decreasing over time and cooking speeds up the process. Diallyl sulphides on the other hand, are less volatile. They do not degrade as quickly and also survive cooking better. Thus garlic in the cooked form, though retains its cardiovascular benefits, certainly loses most of its antibiotic properties.
For health benefits, the best would be to add a little of freshly crushed garlic to the cooked food just before serving it. Also, because diallyl sulphides are effective only for a few hours after consumption, it is better to have small quantities of the herb frequently rather than having one large doze only once a day.
How should we eat garlic then? Needless to say, crushing a clove of garlic and eating it raw would not be the most pleasant of experiences. More so, raw garlic is very strong & eating too much of it might produce problems like heartburn and intestinal bloating. This may even damage the digestive tract. Using enteric coated supplements can reduce such side effects, as also they reduce the ‘garlic breath’ by allowing the product to pass undigested through the mouth and food pipe to the stomach. Yet for health benefits, the best would be to add a little of freshly crushed garlic to the cooked food just before serving it. Also, because diallyl sulphides are effective only for a few hours after consumption, it is better to have small quantities of the herb frequently rather than having one large doze only once a day.
Vice Pricipal/HOD H.Sc.
I.B. College, Panipat.