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The Incredible Health Benefits of Garlic

min read

By Katherine George

Medically Reviewed by Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Garlic has long been celebrated in the fantasy realm for warding off evil—specifically blood-thirsty vampires. However, in reality, garlic does indeed possess several superpowers when it comes to our health. For instance, garlic contains allicin, an organic sulfur compound, which strengthens immunity, improves heart health, and lessens inflammation.

Furthermore, it even acts as an antibacterial agent to banish bacterial illness and food poisoning. Remember, eating garlic in the raw will warrant the highest benefits. So plug that nose and applaud garlic for these 18 unexpected health benefits…

Protect Against Heart Disease and Lower Cholesterol

One of the best and biggest benefits of garlic is that it has the ability to lower LDL cholesterol. Healthline states that people who suffer from high cholesterol can take garlic supplements and see a reduction of about 10 to 15-percent! “Looking at LDL (the “bad”) and HDL (the “good”) cholesterol specifically, garlic appears to lower LDL but has no reliable effect on HDL,” writes the source. “High triglyceride levels are another known risk factor for heart disease, but garlic seems to have no significant effects on triglyceride levels.” WebMD also notes that garlic seems to have the best effect when it’s taken for more than 8-weeks.

In addition, LiveStrong cites a study published in the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine from back in 1991 which found that students who consumed 10-grams of raw garlic each day for two months were able to lower their cholesterol levels and thus reduce their risk of heart disease. Another study from 2006 which was published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences “found that raw garlic consumption increased beneficial HDL cholesterol levels, while decreasing total cholesterol,” writes LiveStrong. However the difference wasn’t large enough that it could be used as the only method for lowering cholesterol. It should only be used in addition to other treatments.

Protects Bones

While there haven’t been any human studies on the effects of garlic on bone loss, Healthline points out that there were some promising studies on rodents which showed that garlic has the potential to minimize bone loss by increasing estrogen in females.

Another study in the Journal of Dietary Supplements found that menopausal women who had “a daily dose of dry garlic extract (equal to 2-grams of raw garlic) significantly decreased a marker of estrogen deficiency,” writes Healthline. This research suggests there might be a link between garlic and bone health, particularly in women. There has also been findings that show foods like garlic and onions have a positive effect on osteoarthritis.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Did you know that garlic is also a powerful anti-inflammatory? Specifically, garlic oil is noted as a potent treatment for sore muscles and painful inflamed joints when the oil is massaged directly into the affected area.

Research published in the journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, outlined the short-term effects of raw garlic extracts for reducing inflammation, due to the pro-inflammatory cytokines in raw garlic. The study showed positive outcomes, but cautions that heating garlic extracts lowered the anti-inflammatory prowess.

Be careful when using garlic for this purpose. Foods such as garlic are known to be anti-inflammatory and actually worsen lupus symptoms. It is best to speak with your dietitian to obtain the best food options, says registered dietitian, Julie Ching.

Treat Athlete’s Foot

Many would never dream of putting raw garlic on a case of athlete’s foot, however, multiple studies claim that among its many benefits, garlic also has anti-fungal properties and is able to banish fungus overgrowth. High in microbial properties, specifically from the compound ajoene (or allium sativum), a raw garlic soak can banish all sorts of fungal infections—from athlete’s foot to candida.

According to Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, chief of pediatric integrative medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, garlic contains natural anti-fungal benefits that make it a powerful ally in fighting and preventing recurrence of all sorts of fungal infections.

Protect Against Cancer

Most of us have been affected by cancer in some way or another, either directly or through someone we know. It’s a terrifying thing for many of us and we’ll do whatever we can to protect ourselves from it! Apparently garlic can be helpful with this. Garlic can protect against cancer by reducing the risk of certain types of cancer. A seven year study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research found that participants who consumed garlic twice a week were less likely to develop lung cancer than those who consumed garlic less often, explains LiveStrong.

Another study on men in China found that those who ate one clove of garlic a day were 50-percent less likely to develop prostate cancer. “Population research shows that eating garlic may be associated with a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer. But other research suggests that eating garlic does not affect prostate cancer risk in men from Iran,” writes WebMD. Despite the contradictions, there is some research that suggests just taking garlic extract supplements might help reduce the risk of prostate cancer or the symptoms associated with it.

There’s also research by University of Maryland Medical Center that suggests garlic can be used to help treat colon and pancreatic cancer, however more research is needed to verify this.

May Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The only thing that can be done is to take preventative measures, and according to research, consuming garlic is one of them. Aging is accelerated by oxidative damage from free radicals and garlic contains antioxidants that “support the body’s protective mechanisms against oxidative damage,” says Healthline.

People with high blood pressure can take high doses of garlic supplements which will work to increase antioxidant enzymes in the body and reduce oxidative stress. “The combined effects on reducing cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as the antioxidant properties, may reduce the risk of common brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” writes the source.

Strengthens Immunity

Raw garlic has long been touted as a means to combat the common cold. However, medical doctors at St. Joseph Family Medicine Residency, in Mishawaka, Indiana, found that the regular prophylactic use (or garlic taken as a precautionary method to ward off illness) showed promise when it came to decreasing the frequency of colds in adults.

The same study noted that even though garlic was able to prevent recurring illness, it was unable to lower the duration of symptoms once a cold struck. A study from researchers at Washington State University, claims that diallyl sulfide, a type of garlic compound, was also effective in reducing cases of intestinal illness and food poisoning caused by Campylobacter bacterium.

Garlic for Diabetes

People who are at risk for type 2 diabetes have a decrease in the hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. Lucky for these people, a 2011 study published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism found that garlic can actually improve this sensitivity and lower the risk of diabetes, explains LiveStrong.

According to WebMD, the results show that garlic seems to work best in people who already suffer from diabetes, and the results are more likely to show if the garlic is taken for at least 3-months. It’s important to note that more research needs to be done because so far, the findings are only based on a study in rats.

Reduce Blood Pressure

Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest health problems because heart attacks and strokes are among the world’s biggest killers. There are several risk factors that play an big role in these conditions and high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of them. Healthline points out that studies have found garlic to be effective in reducing blood pressure, particularly in those who suffer from high blood pressure. WebMD writes, “taking garlic by mouth seems to reduce systolic blood pressure by about 7-9 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by about 4-6 mmHg in people with high blood pressure.”

One study in particular which was published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences found that “600-1,500-mg of aged garlic extract was just as effective as the drug Atenolol at reducing blood pressure over a 24-week period.” In order to see any kind of effective results, the dosage needs to be quite high. Healthline recommends a supplement dose that is equivalent to about four cloves a day.

Encourage Longevity

This one probably peaks your interest! It might be surprising to think that there is food that exists that can actually extend our life expectancy, but garlic has proved that it is possible! It’s not exactly magic…basically garlic has been shown to improve longevity in humans mainly due to its other health benefits, like it’s ability to lower blood pressure.

“The fact that it can fight infectious disease is also an important factor, because these are common causes of death, especially in the elderly or people with dysfunctional immune systems,” writes Healthline.

Increase Physical Performance

Garlic might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about how to boost athletic performance. Mainly people just think about the smell and delicious taste of course. But if we look back in history, Healthline explains that it was used in ancient cultures as a “performance enhancing” substance to “reduce fatigue and enhance the work capacity of laborers.” In fact, research shows it was used by Olympic athletes in ancient Greece.

Today, the research on the real effects of garlic and physical performance are limited. There have been rodent studies which have shown it can improve exercise performance, but there haven’t been any similar studies in humans. One study on people with heart disease “who took garlic oil for 6-weeks had a 12-percent reduction in peak heart rate and better exercise capacity,” writes Healthline. However a different study in cyclists found no increase in performance.

Clear Acne

We’ve all been there…you wake up in the morning and it rears its ugly head — a pimple! Most of the time we have to just rid them out and hope our concealer can cover it up, but there is another option. Garlic actually contains antioxidants that can kill the acne-causing bacteria.

Next time a pimple pops up. Take a sliced clove of garlic and rub it directly on the pimple.

Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Parasitic

Ringworm is not pleasant and definitely not something we want hanging around. WebMD writes that this fungal skin infection can be treated with a gel “containing 0.6-percent ajoene, a chemical in garlic, twice daily for one week seems to be as effective as antifungal medication for treating ringworm.”

Since garlic has antibacterial powers Huffington Post says there is research out there that claims garlic can “prevent food poisoning by killing bacteria like E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella enteritidis.“ The source also notes that this only pertains to fresh garlic, not aged.

There was even one study that found “garlic was better at treating campylobacter than two kinds of antibiotics,” writes Huffington Post. However, you must still practice safe cooking and food handling. Garlic is not to be used a replacement for that.

Insect Repellent

There’s nothing more annoying than a relentless mosquito…or rather several of them. I swear some of us just taste sweet or something because sometimes they just won’t quit! Huffington Post states that a study conducted in India found that garlic can actually repel mosquitos. Reader’s Digest points out that researchers still aren’t clear what it is about garlic that mosquitoes don’t like, but one study in India found that “people who rubbed a garlicky concoction on their arms and legs weren’t bothered by the pesky buggers.” Most people don’t want to dose themselves in garlic because of the smell. In that case, you could also just try and keep some nearby and see if that helps.

In addition to mosquitos, WebMD states that garlic can be used to reduce the number of tick bites. Research found that people who consumed a high amount of garlic over an 8-week period were able to reduce their bites significantly. It’s unclear why garlic has this effect or how much better it works compared to other tick repellent.


Julie Ching is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Los Angeles. She decided to become a Dietitian after traveling through Europe, South America, and Asia and discovered a passion for food. She now works with people of all ages and varying disease states to improve their health. She is passionate about teaching people about nutrition so they can live their best life while still considering their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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