Garlic or Garlic Supplements: Which is Healthier?
Garlic or Garlic Supplements: Which is Healthier?
Dr. Bill Rawls
By Dr. Bill Rawls Posted 02-07-2021

Garlic is a notable star in Goodfellas, Dracula, and nearly every Rachael Ray dinner recipe. For good reason: The aromatic cloves offer loads of flavor, potent vampire-repelling powers (or so we hear), and — whether Rachael knows it or not — a range of impressive health benefits. But what if you don’t love the taste?

Well, even if you eat garlic as religiously as the 30-Minute Meals maven, you might want to consider adding a garlic supplement to your daily regimen. Here’s what the herb has to offer, and how the benefits of the fresh ingredient measure up against garlic in supplement form.

The Science Behind Garlic’s Health-Promoting Benefits

Garlic has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries, and in more recent years, a wealth of research has illustrated the wisdom of our ancestors’ ways. Here are just a handful of garlic’s most impressive, science-backed health benefits:

two overlaying circles with a plus sign in the middle. First circle garlic, second circle microbes icons.

Garlic Defends Against Microbes

The pungent aroma you notice when you cook with garlic is due to its sulfuric compounds, primarily one called allicin. Allicin is formed when fresh garlic is chopped or crushed, but it’s highly volatile and breaks down rapidly, so the benefits begin to wane quickly.

Garlic and knife on a wooden chopping board. Cooking concept.

Used in recipes, garlic can help slow the growth of certain foodborne bacteria, according to findings in the journal Microbes and Infection (although this is no substitute for proper food safety procedures). The study found allicin exhibited antimicrobial activity against bacteria like E. coli, as well as fungi like Candida albicans and parasites such as Giardia lamblia.

Garlic Lowers the Risk for Certain Cancers

Prostate cancer and gastrointestinal cancers in particular, such as esophageal, colorectal, and stomach cancer, have been shown to be less common among individuals who eat more garlic. For instance, one study of men in Shanghai, China found that those with the highest intake of allium vegetables — which includes garlic, onions, and scallions — had a 53% decreased overall risk of prostate cancer compared with those eating the fewest allium veggies.

The mechanisms behind garlic’s cancer-preventing powers are many. For one, garlic’s antimicrobial properties have been shown to be effective against bacteria like H. pylori, which is linked with a greater risk of gastric cancer. Compounds in garlic may also stop the proliferation of cancer cells by disrupting their normal cycle of division or even triggering apoptosis or cell death.

two overlaying circles with a plus sign in the middle. First circle garlic, second circle silhouette coughing.

Garlic Fends Off the Common Cold

The duration and severity of the common cold might be shortened with increased garlic consumption, per a report in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. It found that in a comparison of people taking either a garlic supplement or placebo for 12 weeks, there were 65 incidences of the common cold among placebo takers compared with only 24 among the garlic group. Plus, garlic takers recovered from their symptoms a day earlier on average. The researchers point to garlic’s antimicrobial properties.

two overlaying circles with a plus sign in the middle. First circle garlic, second circle flame symbol.

Garlic Reduces Chronic Inflammation

Garlic can help ease the inflammation that triggers arthritis symptoms, suggests the Arthritis Foundation, and research backs them up. One study in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy found that certain sulfur compounds isolated from garlic worked to suppress nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), a protein complex that helps regulate the immune response and controls the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Based on their findings, the study authors concluded that garlic could be useful for addressing arthritic and other inflammatory diseases.

two overlaying circles with a plus sign in the middle. First circle garlic, second circle heart icon.

Garlic Boosts Cardiovascular Health

The same sulfuric compounds that offer protection against microbes and inflammation may also reduce blood pressure in people with too-high levels. People with hypertension who took 300 mg to 1,500 mg of garlic in tablet form daily for 24 weeks experienced a significant drop in blood pressure in one study in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. The decrease was comparable to that seen in study participants taking a prescription blood pressure-lowering medication, and it was both dose and duration dependent — the larger the garlic supplement and the longer it was taken, the greater the results.

Fresh Garlic or Garlic Supplement: Which is Healthier?

There’s no proven upper limit to how much fresh garlic you can consume, though eating a lot may lead to bad breath (of course) plus heartburn or stomach discomfort, especially when raw. That’s because garlic is naturally acidic, which can irritate the esophagus and trigger heartburn and reflux.

The real issue with fresh garlic is that you’d have to eat a lot of it to likely rack up the benefits highlighted above — about three big, raw cloves of garlic a day. Cooked garlic is less ideal, because allicin — the main sulfur chemical in garlic with therapeutic activity — breaks down pretty rapidly. In fact, less than 1% of cooked garlic is absorbed in an active form that the body’s systems can utilize to make those anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting, and other health benefits of garlic a reality.

garlic herbal capsules and fresh bulbs of garlic laying on a wooden background

Enter garlic supplements, which can deliver stabilized allicin along with the other health-promoting compounds of garlic in a form that allows more of it to be accessed by the body. Through a proprietary process, garlic supplements offer allicin that can be utilized nearly 100% by the body.

In addition to being easier for the body’s systems to access and utilize, garlic supplements are also less likely to lead to an upset stomach. And it’s really tough to overdo it: The suggested dose generally ranges from 180 mg to 1,200 mg per day, depending on the product; with a stabilized allicin product, the toxic dose is about 3,000 capsules per day.

The one caveat to be aware of is garlic’s potential to interact with medications, particularly blood thinners. Garlic, like many herbs, is a natural blood thinner, so taking it alongside a prescription blood thinner could make it too challenging for your blood to clot.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a garlic lover, enjoy it as often as you like — you’ll certainly get some of the bulb’s health benefits. But if you really want to take full advantage of garlic’s health-promoting properties, add a garlic supplement with stabilized allicin to your regular regimen. That way you can both savor the flavor of garlic and reap its robust benefits.

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References
1. Holly L. Nicastro et al. “Garlic and onions: Their cancer prevention properties.” Cancer Prevention Research; 2015 Mar; 8(3): 181–189. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4366009/
2. Ann W Hsing et al. “Allium vegetables and risk of prostate cancer: a population-based study.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute; 2002 Nov 6;94(21):1648-51. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12419792/
3. S. Ankri and D. Mirelman. “Antimicrobial properties of allicin from garlic.” Microbes and Infection; 1999 Feb;1(2):125-9. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10594976/
4. “Best Spices for Arthritis.” Arthritis Foundation. URL: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/healthy-eating/best-spices-for-arthritis
5. Elizabeth Lissiman et al. “Garlic for the common cold.” Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews; 2014 Nov; 2014(11). URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6465033/
6. Jung Ok Ban et al. “Anti-inflammatory and arthritic effects of thiacremonone, a novel sulfurcompound isolated from garlic via inhibition of NF-κB.” Arthritis Research & Therapy; 11, Article number: R145 (2009). URL:
https://arthritis-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/ar2819
7. Rizwan Ashraf et al. “Effects of Allium sativum (garlic) on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension.” Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences; 2013 Sep;26(5):859-63. URL:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24035939/

About the Medical Director
Dr. Bill Rawls
Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.
  • Dr. Bill Rawls

    ABOUT BILL RAWLS, M.D.

    Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.

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