The Spartan Guide to Garlic
Garlic is the ubiquitous cousin of onion, chives, and leeks, and it’s thought to be native to Siberia. In addition to making foods extra tasty (and breath smell extra foul), it’s used to treat a number of heart conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Herbalists also love it for its ability to fight off infections and act as an antioxidant.
Garlic produces a compound called allicin—it’s what gives the bulb its signature aroma. Allicin also seems to give garlic heart-helping superpowers. “I use it a lot in tablet form for people with high blood pressure and those trying to decrease their risk for heart disease,” says Svetlana Kogan, M.D., a family physician based in New York City and author of Diet Slave No More. “Especially with guys, because sometimes they’re lazy and don’t want to cook with garlic—they just want to take a pill,” she adds with a laugh.
The research backs her up (on the cardiovascular bit, at least): While arteries tend to lose their stretchiness with age, taking a garlic-powder supplement twice daily for two years seems to slow this hardening. And some research shows that garlic can reduce high blood pressure by as much as 8 percent.
“Garlic also has amazing anti-infectious and anti-inflammatory properties,” Dr. Kogan says. “Herbologists will use it for its anti-parisitic effects and anti-yeast effects; if a woman has candida, I use garlic as part of her regimen for prevention and treatment.” And it’s a great anti-inflammatory in general, she adds: “If somebody comes in with a nasty upper respiratory infection, it’s definitely something I’d recommend using, at least by cooking with it.”
Plus, thanks to allicin’s anti-inflammatory effects, garlic may help ward off cancer. Research shows that eating it seems to reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer, and in people diagnosed with those illnesses, taking high doses of aged garlic extract seems to cut the risk of developing additional tumors. A Chinese study showed that men who eat one clove a day cut their risk of prostate cancer in half, while population-level research shows a link between garlic consumption and a lower risk of prostate cancer.
How to Use It
Cooking with garlic is the easiest way to take advantage of the food’s healing properties. But chop or mince it a few minutes before you’re ready to add it to a recipe. By letting the prepped bulb sit on the cutting board, you expose the allicin to oxygen, which increases its power.
Supplements are another option, but yes, unfortunately, you will begin to smell. “You secrete it through your sweat glands, so the sweat will smell of garlic,” Dr. Kogan says. Some pills use aged garlic, which confers less of a stink, but scientists suspect it doesn’t work quite as well, either. Choose enteric coated pills, which are likelier to be released in the gut instead of the stomach, where they’re closer to your mouth. That should cut down on the bad breath, at least.
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