Garlic, especially in its raw form, has been praised for its healing power and medicinal uses since ancient times. It was used for medicinal purposes by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans, and Chinese. Today, numerous research studies document the extraordinary benefits of garlic on human health.
The healing properties of garlic are wide and varied, ranging from antioxidant, antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties to cancer-fighting and immune-boosting activity. Due to its healing properties, raw garlic has been used as a medicinal plant to prevent — and in some cases treat or even heal — various health complaints.
Although almost anyone can benefit from eating garlic, those who are looking for a natural way to reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, asthma attacks, bouts of cold or flu, abnormal hair loss, or some skin conditions are likely to reap the most health benefits by regularly eating garlic. In this article, we look at the extraordinary healing properties of garlic and describe the most common medicinal uses of this natural “wonder drug”.
Note: Check with your physician before using garlic for any medicinal purposes.
Medicinal Use of Garlic as an Antifungal Agent
The medicinal use of garlic as an antifungal agent has been validated by numerous research papers and publications. Most of the antifungal properties of garlic have been attributed to allicin, a phytochemical that is produced when raw garlic cloves are crushed or chopped. To maximize the allicin content of your garlic dishes, you should let the chopped or crushed garlic sit several minutes before using it. Research shows that allowing chopped or crushed garlic to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before using it can significantly increase the amount of allicin it produces.
As a result of its antifungal activity, garlic has been used to treat acne and conditions linked to the overgrowth of Candida yeast in the body. Some herbalists also suggest that garlic may have dandruff healing properties due to its ability to fight Pityrosporum ovale (P. ovale), a small fungus that lives on the scalp and that may play a role in the development of dandruff.
Strong Antioxidant Activity Due to Allicin
Many of the healing properties of raw garlic are linked to its strong antioxidant qualities. These antioxidant properties are largely attributable to allicin, the same compound that is responsible for the antifungal properties of crushed raw garlic. Allicin has been touted as one of the most potent antioxidants found in foods. In addition to allicin, garlic delivers antioxidant vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, zinc, and selenium.
Antioxidants in garlic help protect the body from free radicals, destructive oxygen molecules that attack healthy cells and that can cause cellular damage. Due to their destructive effects on cells, free radicals are heavily implicated in several diseases including eye disorders, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, atherosclerosis, an impaired immune system, certain types of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to staving off common diseases and conditions, the free radical neutralizing properties of garlic can help keep your skin looking young by fighting premature aging of the skin provoked by excessive exposure to sunlight. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it creates powerful enzymes called metalloproteinases which help repair sun-damaged connective tissue. However, not all metalloproteinases are good for us: some metalloproteinases destroy collagen fibers, which can lead to wrinkles and fine lines. Free radicals appear to activate these destructive metalloproteinases.
Garlic — a Natural Antibiotic?
Back in the nineteenth century, the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur examined the use of raw garlic juice as a potential antibacterial agent and found garlic to be capable of killing bacteria much in the same way as penicillin does. Consequently, garlic was used widely as an antibacterial agent to disinfect and heal wounds during World War II. Since then, several research studies published in medical journals have confirmed the antibacterial and antiviral properties of garlic. In addition to its ability to control bacterial and viral infections, garlic has been shown to fight and heal infections caused by other microbes and worms.
Due to the healing properties of garlic derived from its antibacterial and antiviral activity, this medicinal herb has also used in the treatment of some infections that are difficult to treat due to the presence of bacteria that have become resistant to prescription drugs such as antibiotics. However, more research is needed in this area before definite conclusions about the efficacy of garlic as an antibiotic can be made.
Anti-Cancer Effects of Raw Garlic
Still not impressed with the healing properties and medicinal uses of garlic? Well, guess what, numerous laboratory tests have also found garlic and garlic extracts to exert strong anti-cancer effects. Also, several epidemiologic studies support the idea that garlic — especially raw garlic — can help prevent certain types of cancer. According to a large-scale review of epidemiologic studies, the strongest evidence for anti-cancer effects of raw garlic pertains to stomach and colorectal cancers. This extensive review, which appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000, analyzed epidemiological studies published on stomach, colon, head, and neck, lung, breast, and prostate cancers since 1966.
Raw garlic appears to exert its anti-cancer effects through multiple mechanisms, including inhibition of free radical production, activation of enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, and regulation of cell-cycle arrest. In addition, garlic has been shown to induce apoptosis. Apoptosis, also known as programmed cell death, is the body’s normal way of getting rid of unneeded or abnormal cells, but cancer cells employ mechanisms that allow them to evade apoptosis so they can grow uncontrollably at the expense of healthy cells and tissues.
Benefits for Insulin Resistant People
Research suggests that a healthy diet rich in garlic may be used successfully as a complementary treatment for insulin resistance, a physiological condition that remains a major medical challenge of the twenty-first century. Insulin resistance has been linked to a number of diseases and conditions including pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, excess body weight (especially around the waistline), adult acne and heart disease. In insulin-resistant people, the body’s cells are no longer able to effectively respond to the actions of the hormone insulin.
According to a study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology in 2005, the health benefits of garlic for insulin-resistant people may be linked to the presence of garlic oil and diallyl trisulfide in garlic. In addition to having wide-ranging healing properties documented in previous studies, these two compounds appear to improve the body’s ability to effectively respond to the actions of insulin and thus fight insulin resistance.
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