Living in an era where the nitty gritty details of disease and illness are readily available on the web has made people realise - immunity matters.
Certainly, unless we come up with a vaccine for every known condition, there’s no way we can make sure that we’ll never be infected. But if there’s anything that modern medicine has taught us, it’s that our first line of defence is the integrity of our health.
There are lots of different ways to help your immune system with the work that it does. And among the most direct channels through which we can impact our body’s natural defences is our diet.
Organic food sources have shown the most promise in terms of boosting our immune response, and among the most effective is none other than garlic. Packed with properties that fight off infections and enhance physiological processes, garlic might just be the health defence we need in these perilous times.
Antibiotic and Antiviral Effects
The most well-published and heavily researched reason for garlic’s immune boosting effects involves its ability to obliterate bacteria and viruses. Believed to help keep infection at bay, garlic was employed in both World Wars to combat gangrenous growth on open wounds.
The unassuming vegetable does this by way of its potent sulphur content. When chewed, crushed, sliced, or otherwise mechanically deformed, a compound in the bulbs called alliin is converted to allicin.
This main active ingredient is unstable and easily converts into a broad range of over 100 different kinds of sulphuric compounds. That’s basically how garlic gets its signature aroma.
Once they enter your system, these compounds work hand-in-hand with white blood cells and improve the body’s response to foreign invaders like viruses and bacterial infections.
Doctors and pharmacists have yet to discover a cure or a vaccine for the common cold. But some studies have found that consuming garlic can improve your resistance to certain viral infections.
One such study provided one group of respondents with a garlic supplement and another group with a placebo. They discovered that those who took garlic were 63% less likely to contract the common cold.
Those of the garlic-taking respondents that did get the cold manifested symptoms for a much shorter period of time. These individuals were sick for only a third of the duration of the time compared to those who took placebos.
Improved Heart Health
Medical studies have discovered that garlic might provide benefits in terms of heart health, especially when it comes to high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Some researchers vouch for the antioxidant benefits of garlic, which are said to help reduce free-radical damage to the lining of the blood vessels. This in turn can help normalise blood pressure and improve circulatory function.
But more than that, the intake of garlic has been linked with reduced levels of homocysteine. High levels of this amino acid are directly connected with increased concentrations of cholesterol.
And because your body works as a whole, optimising the function of the heart and circulatory system can directly affect the immune response.
And of course, let’s not forget garlic’s role in combating inflammation. Researchers discovered that garlic is full of
This benefit has been widely studied in the fields of cancer and arthritis treatment, where inflammation is one of the main concerns for management.
Scientists and doctors suggest that garlic can shift inflammation from a pathologic-mediated pro-inflammatory reaction to a host-mediated immune response.
Simply put, this means that the dietary intake of garlic can support the body in regulating certain pathological inflammation responses. In effect, garlic may play a role in the deceleration of tumour formation and the management of arthritic symptoms.
Known as one of garlic’s most shining benefits, the antifungal properties of this miracle herb have been found to single-handedly eliminate various mild to moderate skin infections.
Proven effective against jock itch, ringworm, athlete’s foot, and even yeast infection to name a few, garlic has even been found to work better at inhibiting and treating certain fungal infections than some types of pharmaceutical formulations.
Even for skin infections where garlic can’t completely clear away the infective agent, it has shown benefits in that it can inhibit the spread of fungus or bacteria. Used as a supplementary treatment alongside medication, garlic can minimise the risk of an infection getting out of hand.
The Many Wonderful Ways to Use Garlic
A word to the wise - heat has been found to degrade the wealth of chemical compounds, sulphurs, and antioxidants in garlic. So, if you want to reap the full power of its benefits, you might be better off taking that stuff raw.
But there are a multitude of ways through which you can enjoy the advantages of this miracle vegetable instead of simply chewing it as is, and each unique method brings a little something different to the table.
Garlic oil is essentially garlic-infused olive oil. To make the magical elixir, all you need to do is toss a few chopped garlic cloves into a jar of extra virgin olive oil and have it steep for a night or two. Do note that it’s recommended to use heart-healthy oil like olive oil instead of any typical cooking oil to further enhance the immune-
When stored properly in a fridge, this oil formula can last for up to a month. Garlic oil benefits us in that it can be used in a wide variety of ways. Used for cooking, the oil can naturally and effortlessly infuse your food with the healthy benefits of the miracle vegetable. As a salad dressing, you can expect the same thing.
But what’s particularly interesting about garlic oil is that it can also be used as a topical treatment. Used to prevent infection on wounds and as a treatment for fungal infections like ringworm and athlete’s foot, garlic oil can become your all-in-one healing staple.
Mince a few cloves, toss them into a jar of water, and leave it in the fridge overnight. That’s how easy it is to make garlic water. Although it might not have a shelf life as long as that of garlic oil, this garlic infused solution also provides a wealth of benefits.
One of the main benefits of drinking garlic water is that low-tolerance taste buds might find garlic water to be far more manageable than the burning flavour of raw garlic. Garlic water can also be used to clean wounds and wash other sorts of skin infections.
And of course, let’s not forget that preparing a litre or two of garlic water can make it much easier to get your daily dose of the vegetable’s benefits throughout the day. Simply carry it to work or on your next trip to the gym to get a refreshing splash of immune boosting goodness.
Here’s one for those with a more evolved palate. Combining the benefits of garlic with the delightful taste of sweetened tea, garlic tea is a simple recipe that’s perfect for those lazy afternoons at home.
In a cup of hot water, add one or two minced cloves of garlic. Then add a teaspoon of honey and mix it all together. Steep the garlic until its juices infuse with the water, and down the beverage as is, with the little minced bits of garlic still incorporated.
Garlic with Honey
On the topic of honey, some people have found that combining the sweet nectar of Mother Nature with the potent chemistry of garlic can prove to double their effects. And while it might seem like an odd combination, it’s worth noting that honey’s thick syrupy consistency can mask the raw, spicy flavour of the potent vegetable very well.
Although research is scarce, there are publications that claim that eating garlic and honey on an empty stomach can optimise digestion. Together, these two powerful natural health remedies work to release toxins from the gut, clearing away waste material and preparing your system to optimally digest whatever food you eat throughout the day.
Anyone suffering from issues concerning digestion might find it beneficial to combine honey and garlic to jump-start and support healthy food metabolism. Two tablespoons of honey mixed with a clove or two of minced garlic taken as a morning supplement can help bring these benefits to bloom.
It’s true - subjecting garlic to direct heat is discouraged for those who want to leverage the full benefits of the vegetable. But even then, cooking the ingredient won’t completely erase what it can do for your body. Albeit at a milder rate, cooked garlic can still permeate your system with its health and immune boosting properties.
One tasty way to enjoy the benefits and the flavour of garlic would be to turn them into chips. Sliced thinly and fried until golden brown, fried garlic chips can have you snacking all day long. When prepared in canola or olive oil, the benefits are further highlighted by the heart-healthy benefits of your chosen oil.
The main benefit of fried garlic is that it is more
Black garlic is literally what its name suggests - it’s garlic that's turned black. Made through a process of fermentation, black garlic is an up-and-coming trend that’s gaining the attention of the health-conscious. To make it, you’ll need a slow cooker, some patience, and a few bulbs of peeled garlic.
Aged for two to three weeks in high humidity and heat, black garlic undergoes certain chemical reactions that may impact its overall effects when consumed. According to research, black garlic might contain slightly more antioxidants than regular garlic. It’s also been found to show higher biological activity than its unprocessed counterpart.
While studies are scarce, a few publications suggest that eating black garlic can increase the benefits of the vegetable, and pose a variety of other advantages that garlic on its own might not produce. These include weight loss support and increased libido, to name but two.
Finally, it helps to know that while black garlic might be slightly more potent, it’s also far easier on the gut. Individuals who find that white garlic doesn’t completely agree with their stomach might discover that black garlic is much more tolerable, working its magic without causing any upset.
Nature’s Pharmacy in a Single Bulb
Way back when modern medicine was yet to take shape, garlic was nature’s all-in-one pharmacy. Packed with the chemistry that combats everything from infections and inflammation, to digestion, heart health and more, garlic proves to be a wonderful natural solution against a wealth of common conditions today.
And even with the evolution of medicine, we find that garlic remains a staple in the diets of many health-conscious consumers worldwide. If not for its overwhelming health benefits, then simply for the flavour it lends to any unassuming dish.
Certainly, it’s not going to be a vaccine or a remedy for all the diseases, illnesses, and infections that plague our world, but anyone who wants to stay on the safe side of disease might find that there’s not a lot to lose with a clove or two a day.
Despite all these potential health benefits, some people sadly suffer from garlic allergies or sensitivity, such as IBS patients. If this sounds like you, then it’s time to get creative to introduce alternatives into your cooking. Aromatics that make good replacements for garlic and onions are fennel, celery and bell peppers. Herbs and spices such as horseradish, ginger or galangal also make great substitutes. An Indian spice called asafoetida has a very strong flavour that tastes an awful lot like garlic when added to warm oil. Use it sparingly.
For those who are able to enjoy all the benefits garlic brings to a variety of world cuisines, these recipes are sure to get your creative juices flowing. Why not add oozing mozzarella to regular garlic bread as suggested by this recipe? Or try this easy appetiser or side dish made with Sichuan Chinese spices – Sichuan Beans with Ginger and Garlic – which also happens to be vegan.