Garlic, member of onions, leeks and chives family is a popular ingredient of almost all kinds of cuisines owing to its strong aroma and flavour. It has also been long known for its therapeutic benefits. The healing power of garlic dates back to thousands of years — ancient Egyptian healers prescribed for building physical strength; Russians nicknamed it “Russian Penicillin” because in both world wars Russian soldiers carried garlic cloves in their pockets to treat wounds; Greeks used it as a laxative; Chinese used it to lower blood pressure; and in the middle ages, eating liberal quantities of garlic was considered to increase immunity to plague.
Garlic is loaded with nearly 100 active chemical compounds including several potent antioxidants (compounds that reduce wear and tear of our body). The constituents contributing to its use in cooking and as a protective agent can be credited to a large extent to its numerous sulfur containing compounds, besides amino acids and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. The most important of these compounds is allcin, a sulfur-containing compound.
The spice is certainly known for its antibiotic, anti-clotting, decongestant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive (lowering blood pressure), anti-fungal, antiviral, anti-oxidant and even cholesterol lowering properties.
Research has shown that garlic exhibits cardio-protective role as it helps in lowering blood cholesterol, especially the undesirable fraction of serum cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and serum fat. Eating half a clove of garlic a day may lower blood cholesterol by 9 per cent, provided taken regularly. ‘Ajoene’, one of the breakdown products of allicin, may reduce the risk of heart attacks by preventing formation of blood clots. Research validates the claim that garlic significantly lowers high blood pressure and inhibits platelet clumping.
Garlic also reduces inflammation by blocking the formation of agents (prostaglandins) that induce it. Garlic sauted in oil produces release other sulfur compounds (vinyldiithins), which are bronchial relaxers (open air passageways in lungs).
Garlic can prevent formation of harmful cancer causing agents (dietary nitrites form nitrosamines), used as a preservative in processed meats, thus lowering the risk of developing stomach cancer. ‘Allylsulfides’ sulfur compounds found in garlic increase the production of detoxification enzymes that help breakdown cancer causing compounds and toxins, and enhance their removal from the body. Garlic has been shown to protect against liver, lung and breast cancer.
Other compounds in garlic seem to limit tumour cell growth. Research has shown that consuming on average