Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the united states. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), one person dies from heart disease every 37 seconds, accounting for over 659,000 deaths yearly in the United States alone.
While modern medical sciences have helped find new and more advanced ways to treat this condition, the rates of cardiovascular morbidity are still high. For this reason, many people are looking for alternative ways to improve heart health, with the consumption of garlic at the top of the table.
Garlic is a food of legends that gives meals a flavorful kick. It is hailed for its characteristic pungent and spicy flavor that mellows considerably with cooking. This superfood also has a long history of use for medicinal purposes dating back to 2600 BC. Ancient Greeks used garlic to treat digestion troubles and respiratory infections. At the same time, enslaved Egyptians were fed garlic, believing it would keep them strong to keep building the pyramids.
Besides giving your meals a flavorful kick and healing diseases, garlic is supposedly said to be capable of warding off vampires and werewolves. But folklore and superstitions aside, is garlic really good for your heart? This article will explore the possible effects garlic has on heart health.
Is Garlic Good for Your Heart Health?
Studies have linked garlic to improved cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which all work towards a healthy heart. While garlic contains many compounds and nutrients, researchers believe its heart-helping properties come from a small compound called allicin. Allicin compounds are released once a garlic clove is chopped, crushed, or chewed. Allicin is believed to be behind the reduction of overall body inflammation, lowering cholesterol levels, and decreasing blood pressure.
Garlic is a vegetative herb that belongs to the genus Allium. It is native to India and Central Asia, with China being the largest producer of garlic. Garlic is undoubtedly highly nutritious. According to the Indian Food Composition Table by the National Institute of Nutrition, 100 gms of garlic cloves contain:
Water: 64.42 gs
Carbohydrates: 21.84 gms
Proteins: 6.75 gms
Total dietary fiber: 5.47 gms
Total fats: 0.14 gms
Vitamin C: 13.57 mg
Vitamin B6: 0.77mgs
Vitamin B7: 2.544- micrograms
Total carotenoids: 30.48 micrograms
Magnesium: 25.78 mg
Manganese: 0.32 mg
Phosphorous: 116 mg
Potassium: 453 mg
Garlic contains other essential nutrients and minerals like zinc, copper selenium, vitamins B1, B2, and B5, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is also low in calories and high in nutrient content, which makes it an essential herb for overall health.
Seven Ways Garlic is Good for Heart Health
Garlic contains a natural chemical called allicin. Allicin turns into several compounds when the herb is cut, mashed, or chewed, including hydrogen sulfide, which is responsible for its signature smell and taste. It is believed that allicin and other naturally existing compounds in garlic help relax blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure, which are all factors that positively affect heart health.
Lowers Blood Pressure
According to the American Heart Association, about half of the American adult population has high blood pressure. High blood pressure is linked to about 70% of strokes, heart attacks, and 37% of cardiovascular deaths in Western countries. If not treated, high blood pressure can overstretch the walls of your arteries, leading to scarring or damage.
Garlic contains polysulphides that help dilate blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Several studies have shown that a high dose of garlic or garlic supplements can help lower blood pressure. In particular, a study conducted in 2019 And later published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine found that garlic supplements could help lower blood pressure.
A study conducted in 2016 indicated that the consumption of aged garlic extracts could help lower blood pressure as well as improve a person’s overall cholesterol levels. The study highlighted heart benefits seen with garlic supplementation, including:
- A reduction in systolic blood pressure of 7-16 mmHg
- A drop in diastolic blood pressure of 5 – 9 mmHg
- A decrease in total cholesterol of 7.4 – 29.8 mg/dL
- Improved pulse wave velocity (a measure of arterial stiffness)
- Reduced inflammation and overall general safety
A reduction of blood pressure helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 16 to 40%. In addition, a study found that red blood cells in the human body combine with compounds from digested garlic to create Hydrogen sulfide – a cell messenger.
Hydrogen sulfide helps relax blood vessels and increase blood flow to the heart and other parts of the body. Therefore, eating garlic regularly may help boost your natural supply of this vital chemical and significantly reduce blood pressure and the overall risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is a sticky substance found in the blood. Our bodies need some cholesterol to function normally. But too much of it can build up in the artery walls, slowing down or blocking proper blood flow. This increases your risk of a heart attack. Fortunately, garlic can help lower cholesterol levels in your body. There are two main types of cholesterol found in the body:
- Bad cholesterol: Also known as LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol
- Good cholesterol: Also known as HDL cholesterol
Too much bad cholesterol as compared to the level of good cholesterol in your blood raises your risk of contracting severe heart disease and other health problems. High cholesterol levels result from poor lifestyle choices like consuming a diet high in sugar and unsaturated fats and smoking or taking alcohol excessively.
A study reported in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that a lemon-garlic juice mixture could be beneficial in lowering bad cholesterol. This study involved 112 people aged between 30 and 60 years. In addition, this study showed that regular lemon and garlic juice intake could help the levels of total cholesterol as well as lower blood pressure.
A review of different studies conducted between 1955 and 2013 showed that garlic significantly helped lower total and harmful cholesterol levels. When taken consecutively for over two months, garlic reduced total cholesterol by about 8%. However, while garlic reduces bad cholesterol, it does not affect HDL – the good cholesterol.
A 2016 review of studies on garlic established that garlic has the potential to reduce up to 30 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
A 2014 review of some studies found that regular garlic powder reduces total and LDL cholesterol levels significantly.
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing response. It is a vital part of how the immune system works to protect and repair the body, helping fight off infection and heal an injury. But too much of it can cause severe disease or increase complications, including circulatory and heart disease. For instance, chronic inflammation worsens atherosclerosis, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
Inflammation promotes the growth of plaques, triggers blood clots, and loosens plaque in your arteries – which are all primary causes of strokes and heart attacks. For example, you may have a heart attack when a blood clot blocks an artery to the heart. A stroke results if the blood clot blocks an artery to the brain. Working to reduce inflammation can help prevent strokes and heart attacks.
Decades of scientific research have shown that garlic has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may offer some protection against heart disease. Studies show that garlic reduces markers of inflammation in humans. According to ScienceDirect, garlic extracts help treat chronic inflammatory diseases by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and NO. Like onions and leeks, garlic also contains anti-inflammatory compounds like diallyl disulfide, limiting the severity of pro-inflammatory cytokines. In addition, it lowers your levels of these pro-inflammatory proteins:
- Interleukin-6 (IL-6)
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a)
- High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP)
A 2020 review of 17 high-quality studies found that aged garlic extract significantly reduces TNF-a and CRP. It also found that taking garlic supplements significantly reduces CRP.
Helps with Diabetes
According to the CDC, diabetes and heart disease often go hand in hand. High blood glucose from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. Over time, this damage can lead to heart disease. Also, people with diabetes tend to develop heart disease younger than those without diabetes. They are also more likely to suffer heart failure. Heart failure occurs when your heart can’t pump blood well.
The good news is that you can lower your risk for heart disease and improve your blood sugars by incorporating garlic into your diet. Garlic may lower blood sugar levels. It also helps boost other health markers in people living with diabetes, especially if taken in supplement form.
A 2018 review of several studies found that the consumption of garlic supplements was more effective at controlling fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and bad cholesterol than placebo treatments at reducing in people with diabetes.
A 2017 review of 9 high-quality studies gave type 2 diabetics garlic supplement doses of 0.05 to 1.5 grams daily. The participants who took these supplements experienced a significant reduction in blood sugar levels.
It Helps Reduce Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress occurs when there is an overload of reactive oxygen species (ROS). These molecules overwhelm the body’s defense system. The body’s antioxidant defense system includes enzymes like glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase.
The defense system helps prevent the excessive buildup of ROS in the body. But oxidative stress occurs when it is overwhelmed by ROS levels. Oxidative stress leads to cellular damage. Studies show that garlic helps reduce oxidative stress markers, including malondialdehyde, a highly reactive and harmful compound.
A 2008 study found that taking garlic supplements daily reduced levels of malondialdehyde and boosted levels of antioxidant enzymes glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase. Garlic induces the production of antioxidant enzymes, which are helpful for the body and heart.
Aged-garlic extracts contain unique and potent compounds, including S-allyl cysteine- that help fight oxidative stress. Increasing your intake of garlic helps to increase the antioxidant enzymes in your body while reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress causes high blood pressure. Adding garlic to your diet will help cleanse your body, providing relief in cases of hypertension.
Detoxifies Metals in the Body
Having a small amount of metals like zinc and iron is vital for a healthy body. But too much of these metals can be toxic to the body. Over the years, heavy metal poisoning has become a common phenomenon due to agricultural, industrial, and sewage waste pollution.
Garlic is an excellent source of antioxidants, which help detoxify heavy metals in the body that can worsen heart health if not broken down. Due to the increase of toxins in the air and food due to pollution, garlic may be an excellent food item to include in your diet to prevent the presence of heavy metals like lead in the body. In addition, garlic helps prevent organ damage because of its healing properties.
Boosts Immune System and Protects Cells
Free radicals in the body damage cells. These free radicals can naturally occur in the body or come from external sources such as smoking, air pollution, chemicals, and radiation exposure. Too many free radicals in the body can lead to oxidation stress, a condition linked to chronic illnesses, including heart disease. Garlic contains compounds like allicin which help boost immune cell activity while inhibiting the release of inflammatory proteins like TNF-a and interleukin 1 beta(IL-1β)
Also, garlic offers powerful antibacterial and antiviral effects against various pathogens, including the common cold and respiratory infections. Additionally, studies suggest that the consumption of aged garlic extract can help boost immune cell function and reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms in healthy people.
Garlic is an excellent source of antioxidants, including vitamin C, quercetin – a phytochemical found in plants with anti-inflammatory properties- and selenium. These antioxidants help prevent or slow down cell damage. Garlic also contains small traces of manganese, an essential component of som
e antioxidant enzymes.
Garlic is a Blood Thinner
Garlic is rich in blood-thinning compounds, which help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. Plaque buildup in the arteries causes a blockage, leading to a heart attack or stroke. In addition, garlic has been found to have fibrinolytic activity, which helps break down thrombi and other undesirable clots in the blood vessels.
The ability to prevent and break down any existing artery plugging thrombi is a sure sign that garlic can help prevent strokes and heart attacks. This means that regularly consuming garlic can help prevent clot formation, which can cause various heart conditions like heart attack and stroke.
It Helps Prevent Atherosclerosis- the Hardening of Heart Arteries
Healthy arteries are flexible and elastic. But as we age, these arteries become stiff and complex and may develop plaque buildup. This condition is called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the build-up of cholesterol and other substances in the artery walls. As this buildup increases, it causes arteries narrowing, putting you at risk of strokes and heart attacks.
All of these factors restrict the proper flow of blood. Because garlic helps lower high blood pressure, it may also help prevent the hardening and scarring of arteries associated with atherosclerosis. In addition, some studies have shown that aged garlic extract can help reduce the amount of soft plaque buildup in the arteries.
Soft plaque buildup can cause blockage in the arteries, which leads to a heart attack. It can also help keep your blood vessels flexible, especially in women. A small study that involved 55 patients aged between 40 to 75 found that those who took garlic supplements saw an 80% reduction in soft plaque buildup.
More Reasons to Consume Garlic
The health benefits of garlic do not just stop with the heart. Here are other reasons your body may appreciate an extra dose of this onion family member.
According to various research studies, eating fresh garlic daily may help reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. This may be due to their concentration of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that help protect against cellular damage. For instance, studies suggest that people who consume more garlic are less likely to develop colorectal cancer.
According to the IOWA Women’s Health Study, women who added garlic, fruits, and other vegetables to their diet reduced their risk of developing colon cancer by 35%. That said, researchers agree that more studies are needed in this area. Also, while these studies are encouraging, garlic cannot replace cancer treatment. If you are battling any form of cancer, seek professional medical advice before adding garlic to your diet.
Garlic contains antimicrobial properties which help fight off bacteria and pathogens. While more studies are required to determine if garlic has any potential bacteria-fighting properties, a 2018 study showed that garlic oil might help fight Lyme disease bacteria.
Fighting Common Cold
Studies show that the regular consumption of garlic can help keep off the common cold. It also helps reduce the overall flu symptoms and shortens your bouts with runny noses and coughs associated with colds. Garlic is an excellent source of vitamins B6 and C, which help regulate blood metabolism and promote the function of the nervous system.
Improves Skin Health
Garlic helps prevent acne and can also be used to lighten acne scars. It can also treat cold sores, rashes, blisters, and psoriasis by applying its juices topically over the affected area. Garlic also protects against UV rays, thus preventing aging.
Great for Weight Loss
Garlic minimizes the expression of genes responsible for forming fatty cells, which store fat. It also increases thermogenesis in the body, which aids in burning fat and lowering LDL cholesterol.
It Can Be Used to Improve Athletic Performance
Garlic has a long history as a remedy for reducing fatigue, increasing immunity in treating and preventing infectious diseases and gastrointestinal function, and improving strength. In ancient times, people used garlic to treat fatigue and improve the work capacity of laborers. For example, studies suggest that people who have heart disease consume garlic for six weeks. This resulted in a 12% reduction in their heart rate and better exercise capacity.
Recent research has investigated whether garlic supports specific physical activity and recovery aspects. For example, one study into the effects of garlic supplementation on the aerobic exercise conducted in 2015 found that garlic’s antioxidants can help lower exercise-induced oxidative damage, especially in males. Oxidative damage takes place when free radicles become unbalanced, causing them to interact and react with other molecules, causing damage. Antioxidant properties found in garlic help alleviate this oxidative stress.
A 2016 study of six males suggests that garlic supplementation improves muscle performance. After ten days of supplementation with aged garlic extract, it showed an improvement in the muscle function and power of the participants.
It May Benefit Brain Health
Regular garlic consumption or taking garlic supplements may help improve cognition while promoting the overall health of your brain. This is because garlic contains minerals such as zinc, selenium, and magnesium, aiding brain and nerve health. In addition, some studies suggest that the regular consumption of garlic may aid in preventing cognitive impairment in specific populations.
A 2019 study including older Chinese people found that eating garlic regularly reduced their chances of suffering cognitive impairment. Those who ate garlic also lived longer compared to those who didn’t.
Different studies have also shown that the regular consumption of garlic can help improve memory and attention in older adults.
How Many Cloves of Garlic Should One Eat for Optimal Heart Health?
On average, a person should consume 1-2 or 3 to 6 grams of garlic per day to enjoy its optimal health benefits. If you notice any side effects after consuming more than this amount, consider reducing the amount and watch out for any changes. If the reaction continues, stop taking garlic immediately and consult with a medical practitioner.
Creative Ways to Use Fresh Garlic or Aged Garlic Extract
As you dive into a garlic-heavy diet, here are a few heart-healthy ways to up your garlic intake:
Eat It Raw in Salads
To reap the most benefits of garlic, increase your garlic consumption by eating it raw. We highly recommend consuming it raw. This is because garlic’s sulfur-containing compound allicin, which contains antifungal and antiviral properties- is released only when it is freshly grated or chopped. So try to use it raw in your diet to enjoy the full benefits of allicin. In addition, those with heart problems should consider consuming two cloves of raw garlic on an empty stomach to reduce their risk of atherosclerosis.
Here Are Five Fun Ways to Consume Raw Garlic
There are a lot of ways you can enjoy your garlic raw. For starters, it can be consumed raw in salads.
- Make a honey shot: Grate or crush 1 or 2 cloves of garlic. Scoop one spoonful of honey and sprinkle some of the garlic over it. Swallow the whole mixture at a go. The main job of the honey is to mellow the taste and smell of garlic and makes it easier to eat and ingest.
- Use it as a spread: Mix one or two shredded garlic cloves with your favorite butter and use it as a spread. You will hardly notice the garlic when you bite into your toast. Simply shred the cloves as part of your sandwich ingredients. The raw garlic will blend well with the other flavors and will almost be non-existent when you take a bite.
- Salad dressing: Pound a few cloves of garlic and mix in a bowl with chili flakes, dried herbs, and olive oil. Drizzle the salad dressing over your salad bowl to add a rich garlic flavor to your regular salad bowl.
- Add garlic to the soup: Top up a humble bowl of soup with some burnt garlic to make it more luscious. To prepare burnt garlic, heat a pan with some oil and fry a handful of chopped garlic on low flame until it turns golden brown.
Pickle Your Garlic
Garlic pickle is all things good and spicy. All you need to do is add freshly peeled garlic cloves to white vinegar and add some salt. Pair it with your meal to make it taste better in an instant.
Dip in Sauce
This one works like the honey shot. Add a piece or two of the shredded cloves to your tomato ketchup or mayonnaise. The dipping will help mask garlic’s strong scent and taste, making it easier to consume.
Simply swallow a crushed clove of garlic like a pill. Push it down with a glass of water.
Garlic provides an excellent and tasty way to spice up your sandwich. Make sure to add a good condiment, whether it is mustard, mayonnaise, or some other kind of relish, to mellow out the robust taste of garlic.
Roast potatoes with whole garlic cloves, and then sprinkle your favorite seasoning. Add roasted garlic and white bean hummus as an appetizer spread.
Baking your garlic in the oven is an excellent way to bring out that authentic garlic flavor. Preheat your oven to 350° F, coat three heads of garlic with two tbs of margarine, place each head of garlic in a piece of aluminum foil and fold over. Please put it in the oven and let it bake for about 30 minutes until soft.
Garlic provides a tasty way to support your heart health. It is one of the world’s oldest and best-loved natural remedies – it has traditionally been used to treat many conditions. With cardiovascular diseases being one of the biggest health crises in the U.S., finding new ways for treatment and prevention remains a top priority amongst healthcare providers. Research studies show that adding garlic supplements into your daily diet may significantly decrease your risk of developing heart disease.
While more studies are still needed to measure the long-term health benefits of garlic, you should consider adding it to your diet. But before you start taking any garlic supplements, consult with your doctor about any dietary changes or new supplements you plan to take. Garlic supplements can sometimes conflict with your medicine or treatments. Your doctor is best suited to advise you on the best supplements.