Dating back as far as the Neolithic Age, garlic was found in West and Central Asia, eventually spreading to the Middle East and Northern Africa before making its way to Europe.
Historians have indicated that ancient Egyptians used the vegetable to season food, prolong life, and enhance strength and as a medicine to cure wounds and other ailments. In fact, archaeologists cited evidence that slaves were fed garlic to build strength while constructing the pyramids.
Garlic arrived in the U.S. during the last few centuries thanks to Polish, German, and Italian immigrants who used it for cooking, but the plant made a grand entrance in 1989 when the Soviet Union invited America to harvest its garlic from the Caucasus region.
During the last quarter century garlic has found favor with the American palate, with an Amazon search yielding over 800 garlic cookbooks. Farmers have taken note and work to meet the demand. The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center reports that in 2013 garlic production reached 3.9 million hundredweight (cwt), a measure that equals one-twentieth of a ton.
Butwhat is the best way to get your daily dose of garlic and what do your patients seek to gain from adding it to their regime?
Food vs. supplements
Most nutritionists agree that obtaining nutrients via food products is the preferred delivery method. Scott Schreiber, DC, a chiropractic physician double-board certified in rehabilitation and clinical nutrition, certified nutrition specialist, and licensed dietitian andnutritionist, is one of those experts.
“Garlic is one of nature’s superfoods. It contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals and very little calories. Allicin, one of its primary phytochemicals, has been shown to be effective against bacterial, viral, and fungal infections,” he says. “It has also been shown to help with athletic performance and prevent degenerative brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Garlic is an anti-inflammatory, which is helpful when recovering from injuries.”
Although it may be difficult for some people to tolerate, eating garlic raw provides optimal benefits. Schreiber notes that cooking diminishes the amount of allicin in garlic. But he emphasizes that daily intake of raw garlic should not exceed 25 mg to avoid toxicity.
Unfortunately, the sulphuric compounds in garlic that pack a healthy punch also cause an unpleasant odor, typically known as “garlic breath.” So supplement form may hold more appeal for your chiropractic patients.
Lori L. Shemek, PhD, the Huffington Post’s top diet and nutrition expert, recommends garlic supplements for her patients and asserts that garlic “has a list of impressive benefits with a powerful effect upon our health.”
Benefits of garlic
For starters, garlic can reduce cardiovascular disease, in part, by lowering amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol, according to Shemek. “Garlic is a great source of vitamin B6, which is needed for a healthy immune system and the efficient growth of new cells,” she says, adding that during the cold and flu season, garlic supplementation has proven to be highly effective as a preventative measure.
Additionally, garlic can play an important role in the prevention of multiple types of cancer, Shemek asserts. “Bladder cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and stomach cancer have all been shown to have their tumors reduced when treated with garlic,” she says. “Garlic uses the hydrogen sulfide signaling system to exert its anti-cancer effects.”
Shemek reports that supplementation with garlic also helps lower and balance blood sugar levels, which decreases hunger and cravings. Additionally, garlic helps remove heavy metals, such as mercury or lead, from the body. “If you have amalgam fillings, garlic would be a useful supplement to take,” she notes. She recommends taking 400 mg twice a day to maximize effectiveness, but cautions that individuals on blood-thinning medications should not use garlic since it already contains blood-thinning properties.
Schreiber notes that some clinical trials on garlic supplementation have administered between 600 and 1200 mg/daily in divided doses. “This may be increased when treating for certain conditions but only under the supervision of trained health care professionals,” he says, emphasizing the importance of checking for quality when purchasing the supplement form. “Not all garlic supplements are created equal. Make sure you are taking a high quality, professional grade supplement.” He added that individuals with allergies should be cautious when using supplements.
Shemek admits there is a “huge debate out there between ‘real’ garlic and garlic supplements with no real conclusions reached.” But anecdotal evidence and some clinical trials confirm the therapeutic effects of garlic. However, more studies should be conducted to determine effects on pregnant and nursing women and in children.
For some interesting and unusual recipes prepared with garlic, click here.