The Many Health Benefits of Eating Garlic

Dr. Christopher McGowan
August 6, 2021

From warding off vampires, to purportedly helping prevent the common cold, garlic has been touted as a miracle cure in mythology and medicinal traditions. While most of us are probably not worried about vampires, garlic can still prove useful in warding off very real dangers such as atherosclerosis and high cholesterol. 

A relative of the allium family, garlic (allium sativum) is closely related to onions, shallots, chives, and leeks. Possibly first originating from Siberia, this pungent vegetable has been used in cuisine across the world for more than five millennia. Known for its pungent aroma, garlic is a staple component in cooking across the globe, and many cultures have long prized garlic for more than its ability to add a little kick of flavor to your cooking. 

What are the Health Benefits of Garlic?

Eating raw garlic can offer up a wide range of health benefits including fighting off high blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, managing lipid levels, and lowering your risk of heart disease. There are even studies that have suggested cancer prevention is on the list of potential benefits of eating garlic. With its anti-inflammatory properties and levels of antioxidants to fight off the damage caused by free radicals, the use of garlic has the potential to benefit nearly everyone.

Many people are looking for ways to manage their cholesterol, and while there are drugs made for this purpose, focusing on a healthy diet, weight loss, and exercise can often make a huge difference. Here garlic can provide some benefit, with studies showing that garlic intake can lead to reductions in total cholesterol levels and drops in LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in particular. An additional benefit is that garlic does not appear to have a significant effect on HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. 

Not all of the health benefits of eating garlic are related to your cardiovascular system. Garlic can help prevent the hardening of your blood vessels as you age (atherosclerosis) and help ward off hypertension, but there are other benefits as well. As an antibacterial agent, garlic can be a powerful natural remedy to help ward off dangerous intestinal infections. The presence of diallyl disulfide, for instance, can help to reduce levels of Campylobacter bacteria in your intestines. 

The presence of antioxidants in garlic makes it an attractive addition to your diet for several reasons. Reducing oxidative stress caused by free radicals has been correlated with lowered rates of several types of cancer, with increased garlic intake associated with reductions in the risk of prostate cancer in particular. 

Cancer prevention is not the only area where antioxidants can be beneficial, though. Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in antioxidant enzymes can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. There is evidence to suggest that antioxidant effects combined with well-regulated blood pressure and cholesterol can make a measurable difference in the effects of aging on the brain. 

Garlic is a great addition to your diet for many reasons, but the headline benefits of helping to lower your chances of a heart attack or even reducing your potential risk of cancer are just the beginning. By providing antioxidants and micronutrients that your body needs, garlic can help improve the nutrition density of your diet while helping functions and processes throughout your body run smoothly. In addition to providing well-known nutrients like vitamin C, garlic is also a great source of the following nutrients:

  • potassium
  • calcium
  • manganese
  • selenium

Is Eating Too Much Garlic Bad for You?

When it comes to your diet, balance and moderation are nearly always the right answer. Garlic is no exception to this rule, though there are relatively few problems you can run into by taking too much garlic unless you are on medication that garlic may interfere with. Garlic may be natural, but it is still important to be careful when adding it into your diet. High levels of garlic intake can have interactions with several different classes of drugs including those used to treat HIV/AIDS, birth control pills, and even blood clotting medication. Women who are breastfeeding should also be sure to talk to their health care provider before taking any garlic supplements.

When adding anything new into your diet, especially dietary supplements, it is best to make sure you have consulted with your health care provider to ensure you have the best medical advice on whether the change you are looking at may help or hurt.

Side Effects of Eating Garlic 

For all the upsides of eating garlic, bad breath is probably one of the most notorious downsides. For those who are looking to gain the positive effects of garlic without the possible side effects of bad breath or body odor that can come with eating fresh garlic, there are several other forms in which you can get the benefit without some of the problems. If you aren’t inclined to chow down on a fresh garlic bulb, your other options include:

  • garlic oil
  • garlic extract
  • garlic powder
  • garlic supplements

One thing to be mindful of, though, is that sulfur compounds like allicin that are responsible for much of the benefits garlic can provide degrade quickly, and may not be present in the same levels in garlic extract as in the fresh garlic clove itself. 

Garlic and Weight Loss

Whether you are looking to lower your lipid levels, fend off a potential heart attack, or just want to make the most of your new weight loss diet, garlic is a vegetable that is well worth considering. For people who are looking to lose weight, cooking at home is considered one of the best ways to get control of what you are eating. If you are not an experienced cook and are concerned that eating at home might be bland and boring, garlic can help add some zest to many dishes. You can rest easy knowing that not only will your cooking taste better, but the potent flavor of garlic could be bringing you a host of health benefits as well. 

Nutrition is one of the most important factors for avoiding excess weight gain, and the many chronic diseases it is associated with, as we age. That is one of the reasons we established our medical nutrition therapy program at True You Weight Loss. Though we treat patients with procedures such as endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty, no surgery or procedure is going to provide long-term benefits for weight loss unless you are eating right. Even with highly invasive gastric bypass surgeries, many patients who fail to keep their diets in check will end up needing a bariatric revision to ensure they don’t regain weight later in life. If you are interested in learning more about the services we offer at True You Weight Loss, request a consultation today.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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