The Health Benefits of Garlic
By Jeany Miller
When he was alive, my grandpa ate garlic religiously. I don’t remember ever seeing him and not smelling the pungent aroma of this ingredient, and I eventually came to associate garclic only with him. He would mince garlic and include it with sautéed meat, grind it up in homemade fruit juices and smoothies, and mash it with potatoes and other vegetables. He always said garlic was the reason he stayed so healthy for so long, and I believe him as much now as I did when I was a child.
I did some research to verify the health benefits of garlic and found that several studies confirm the health benefits associated with this food. A study published in 2007, for instance, showed that consuming garlic regularly boosts our body's supply of hydrogen sulfide. This gas is actually poisonous at high concentrations, but we produce our own naturally. It's a highly functional gas that helps maintain our circulation.
In a separate 2007 study, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham added trace amounts of garlic directly to red blood cells, which then immediately began emitting hydrogen sulfide. Based on the study, they concluded that the manufactured production of hydrogen sulfide could explain why a garlic-rich diet helps prevent several different cancers and increase overall heart health.
Two years later, in 2009, researchers conducted another to determine how allicin, the antioxidant that gives garlic its intense scent and taste, actually works to cease the destructive effects of free radicals. Their theory was that a by-product of allicin was responsible for these benefits. Sure enough, the team discovered than an acid that formed as a result of the decomposition of allicin reacts quickly and directly with these radicals. This means that allicin must first decompose in order to transform into an antioxidant.
Like onions and shallots, garlic belongs to the family Alliaceae. These plants have a compound similar to allicin, but without the same medicinal characteristics of garlic specifically. Regardless, a separate study performed in the UK determined that onions are capable of providing similar health benefits as garlic.
Reinforcing this notion, a study from the National Cancer Institute found that eating 10 grams or more of garlic, onions, or scallions a day helped protect against prostate cancer. Similarly, a study conducted at Case Western Reserve University suggested that "garlic may help reduce the occurrence rate of pre-cancerous tumors (polyps) in the large intestine."
I’m pretty sure my grandpa, if he were still alive, would nod his head in appreciation of these studies. He favored onions as much as garlic, although the latter was more prolific in his daily diet. So, if you don’t mind a little smell, you might want to start eating these foods to improve your own health.