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What are the uses and benefits of garlic?

Garlic (Allium sativum) is commonly used as a flavoring in cooking, but has also been used as a medicine in ancient and modern history; a wide variety of illnesses and diseases have been avoided and treated.

Garlic belongs to the Allium genus, which is closely associated with onion, rakkyo (an onion found in Asia), scallion, chive, leek, which shallot. It has been used for thousands of years by humans and was used for culinary purposes in Ancient Egypt as well as for its nutritional and medicinal benefits.

This article will investigate the possible health benefits of garlic and will include all evidence supporting the claims.

Important facts about garlic

  • In many countries, garlic has been used medicinally for centuries.
  • Garlic may have a range of health benefits, both raw and cooked.
  • It may have significant antibiotic properties.


There are many medicinal claims about garlic.
There are many medicinal claims about garlic.

Garlic has been used globally for centuries. Records show that garlic was in use when the pyramids of Giza were built, some 5,000 years ago.

In the Journal of Nutrition, Richard S. Rivlin wrote that the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (circa 460-370 BC), now regarded as “the father of Western medicine,” recommended garlic for a wide variety of illnesses and diseases. Hippocrates promoted the use of garlic to cure respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion and tiredness.

Garlic was given to the original Olympic athletes in Ancient Greece-possibly the earliest example of “performance enhancing” agents used in sports.

Garlic was given to the original Olympic athletes in Ancient Greece-possibly the earliest example of “performance enhancing” agents used in sports.

From Ancient Egypt, garlic spread to the advanced ancient Indus Valley civilizations (pakistan and today’s western India). From there, it made its way to China.

According to experts at Kew Gardens, the royal botanical center of excellence in England, the people of ancient India enjoyed the medicinal qualities of garlic and felt it was an aphrodisiac, too. The upper classes avoided garlic because they despised its strong odor, while monks, “…widows, adolescents, and those who had taken up a vow or were fasting, could not eat garlic because of its stimulant quality.”

In history in the Middle East , East Asia and Nepal, bronchitis, hypertension (high blood pressure), tuberculosis, liver diseases, dysentery, flatulence, colic, intestinal worms, rheumatism, diabetes, and fevers have been treated with garlic.

New World garlic was introduced by the French, Spanish , and Portuguese.


At present, garlic is commonly used for various conditions linked to the blood supply and heart, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high cholesterol, heart attack, coronary heart disease, and hypertension.

Many people still use garlic today to avoid lung cancer, prostate cancer , breast cancer, stomach cancer, rectal cancer and colon cancer.

It is necessary to note that work is behind just some of these uses.

A research published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology cautioned that short-term heating decreases fresh raw garlic extracts’ anti-inflammatory effects. It could be an problem for certain people who don’t like or can’t tolerate the fresh garlic taste and/or odor.


Below are examples of some clinical research conducted in peer-reviewed medical journals on the medicinal (or not) effects of garlic.

Lung cancer risk

According to a report conducted at the Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China, people who eat raw garlic at least twice a week during the 7 year study period had a 44 percent lower chance of developing lung cancer.

The researchers, who published their study in the journal Cancer Prevention Studies, conducted face-to – face interviews with 1,424 patients with lung cancer and 4,543 healthy people. Both have been asked about their diet and lifestyle, including smoking problems and how much both eat garlic.

The authors of the study wrote: “Protective association was observed with a dose-response trend between intake of raw garlic and lung cancer, indicating that garlic can potentially act as a chemo-preventive agent for lung cancer.”

Brain cancer

Organo-sulfur compounds found in garlic have been identified as effective in destroying the cells in glioblastomas, a type of deadly brain tumor.

In the journal Cancer, scientists at the Medical University of South Carolina reported that three pure garlic organo-sulfur compounds – DAS, DADS and DATS – “demonstrated efficacy in the eradication of brain cancer cells, but DATS proved to be the most effective.”

“This work illustrates the great potential of plant-originated compounds as a natural medicine to regulate the malignant growth of human tumor cells in the brain,” said co-author Ray Swapan, PhD. Before applying this therapeutic strategy to brain tumor patients further studies are needed in animal models of brain tumors.

Hip osteoarthritis

People whose diets were high in allium vegetables had lower rates of osteoarthritis, as recorded in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders by a team at King’s College London and the University of East Anglia, both in England. Sources of vegetables with allium include garlic, leeks, shallots, onions, and rakkyo.

The authors of the study said their results not only highlighted the possible effect of diet on outcomes of osteoarthritis but also showed the possible for using compounds in garlic to improve therapies for the disease.

The long-term research, involving more than 1,000 healthy female twins, found that there were fewer signs of early osteoarthritis in the hip joint of those whose dietary habits included plenty of fruit and vegetables, “particularly alliums such as garlic.”

Potentially a powerful antibiotic

According to a study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, diallyl sulfide, a compound in garlic, has been 100 times more effective than two common antibiotics in fighting the Campylobacter bacterium.

The Campylobacter bacterium is one of the most common causes of intestinal infections.

Senior author Dr Xiaonan Lu of Washington State University said, “This research is really exciting for me as it shows that this compound has the potential to minimize disease-causing bacteria in the environment and in our food supply.”

Heart protection

Garlic may contain heart-protective chemicals.
Garlic may contain heart-protective chemicals.

Diallyl trisulfide, a ingredient of garlic oil, helps protect the heart during cardiac surgery and was found by researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine after a heart attack. Often, they claim that diallyl trisulfide may be used as a heart failure treatment.

Hydrogen sulfide gas was shown to protect against damage to the heart.

It’s a volatile compound and hard to deliver as a therapy, however.

For this reason, the scientists decided to focus on diallyl trisulfide, a component of garlic oil, as a more secure way to deliver the benefits of hydrogen sulfide to the heart.

In experiments using laboratory mice, the team found that the mice receiving diallyl sulfide after a heart attack had 61 percent less heart damage in the area at risk compared to the untreated mice.

Scientists found in another study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, that garlic oil can help protect diabetes patients from cardiomyopathy.

Cardiomyopathy is the number one cause of death in patients with diabetes. It is a chronic myocardial condition (heart muscle) that gets abnormally thickened, swollen, and/or rigid.

The team fed both garlic oil or corn oil to diabetic laboratory rats. Those fed garlic oil, relative to the animals that were fed corn oil, showed substantially more improvements associated with heart safety.

The authors of the study wrote: “In conclusion, garlic oil has considerable potential to protect hearts from cardiomyopathy caused by diabetes.”

The findings of this research would need to be verified by human studies.

High cholesterol and high blood pressure

Researchers at Ankara University have been investigating the effects of supplementing garlic extract on the blood lipid (fat) profile of high blood cholesterol patients. They published their research in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry .

23 volunteers were involved in the study, all with high cholesterol; 13 of them had high blood pressure too. They were broken down into two groups:

  • The high-cholesterol normotensive group (normal blood pressure).
  • The high-cholesterol hypertensive group (high blood pressure).

They took 4 months of garlic extract supplements and were checked regularly for blood lipid parameters, as well as function of the kidney and liver.

The researchers concluded at the end of the 4 months that “… garlic extract supplementation improves the profile of blood lipids, strengthens the potential of antioxidants in the blood and causes significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. It also contributes to a decrease in blood samples of the level of oxidation product (MDA) which shows reduced oxidation reactions in the body.

In other words, in patients with hypertension, the garlic extract supplements decreased elevated cholesterol levels, and also blood pressure. The scientists added that theirs was a small study – more work needs to be carried out.

Prostate cancer

A study evaluating the relationship between Allium vegetable consumption and prostate cancer risk was conducted by doctors at the Urology Department, China-Japan Friendship Hospital, Beijing, China,.

They collected and analyzed published studies until May 2013, and reported their findings in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention.

The authors of the study concluded, “Allium vegetables, especially garlic intake, are linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.”

The team also commented that further well-designed prospective studies should be carried out to confirm their findings, as there are not many relevant studies.

Alcohol-induced liver injury

Alcohol-induced liver damage is caused by over-consumption of alcoholic drinks in the long term.

Researchers at the Institute of Toxicology, School of Public Health, Shandong University, China, aimed to discover whether diallyl disulfide (DADS), a garlic-derived organosulfur compound, may well have protective effects against ethanol-induced oxidative stress.

Their work has been published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta.

The researchers concluded that DADS may help protect against hepatic injury caused by ethanol.

Preterm (premature) delivery

During pregnancy microbial infections increase a woman’s risk of preterm delivery. Scientists at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health’s Epidemiology Division researched what effect foods may have on antimicrobial infections and the risk of preterm delivery.

The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition, and its findings.

Ronny Myhre and colleagues concentrated on the effects of alliums and dried fruits, as a quest for literature described these two foods as showing the greatest potential to minimize the risk of premature delivery.

The team examined dried fruit and alliums intake among 18,888 women in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort, 5 percent (950) of whom experienced spontaneous PTD (premature delivery).

The authors of the study concluded, “Intake of food containing antimicrobial and prebiotic compounds may be important in reducing the risk of spontaneous PTD. Especially garlic has been associated with lower overall risk of spontaneous PTD.’

Garlic and the common cold

A team of St. Joseph Family Medicine Residency researchers, Indiana, conducted a study entitled “Treatment of the Common Cold in Children and Adults,” published in American Family Physician.

They reported that “prophylactic use of garlic may decrease adult cold frequency but has no effect on symptom duration.” Prophylactic use means using it regularly to prevent disease.

While some study indicates that raw garlic has the most advantages, other studies looked at total consumption of allium, both raw and cooked, and found benefits. Now you should enjoy garlic in a number of ways to reap its benefits.

Chukwuebuka Martins

Chukwuebuka Martins is a writer, researcher, and health enthusiast who specializes in human physiology. He takes great pleasure in penning informative articles on many aspects of physical wellness, which he then thoroughly enjoys sharing to the general public.