During my 40-year career as a doctor, I have had countless patients ask me the question: “Is it true that ______ is healthy for you?” Fill in the blank with a bunch of different things that mostly sound like old wives’ tales. Today we will fill in that blank with garlic. Many people strongly believe that ingesting garlic often/abundantly impacts health positively. Additionally, there are rumblings that ingesting garlic can help people lose weight.
Garlic is a plant in the Allium (onion) family. It is closely related to onions, shallots and leeks. Each segment of a garlic bulb is called a clove. There are about 10–20 cloves in a single bulb. Garlic grows in many parts of the world and is a popular ingredient in cooking due to its strong smell and delicious taste. (That delicious taste is debatable as I, for one, get sort of nauseated when I smell garlic on someone’s breath)
However, throughout ancient history, the main use of garlic was for its health and medicinal properties Its use was well documented by many major civilizations, including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese.
Most of its health benefits are caused by sulfur compounds formed when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed or chewed. Perhaps the most important of those is known as allicin. However, allicin is an unstable compound that is only briefly present in fresh garlic after it’s been cut or crushed. The sulfur compounds from garlic enter the body from the digestive tract and travel all over the body, where it exerts its potent biological effects.
The positive health benefits attributed to the use of garlic include:
- Enhanced immune system (part of which is people staying away from you because of garlic breath)
- Improved cholesterol levels
- Supports cardiovascular health
- Supports brain health (antioxidants present)
- Improve bone health
- Increase the amount of brown fat (the good fat that burns calories)
Focusing on weight control: The articles and sources I found purportedly giving garlic a “weight loss” function are dubious at best. There is no “downside” to using garlic during your weight control journey as the calorie count is very low and there may be some added benefits to health. Garlic can provide more taste allowing for less “boredom” with the high protein/vegetable approach.
One last benefit: Garlic has been shown in movies to keep Vampires at bay, and with the current apocalypse going on, who knows what is next for us?