Garlic is a notable star in Goodfellas, Dracula, and nearly every Rachael Ray dinner recipe. And for good reason: The aromatic cloves of garlic offer loads of flavor, potent vampire-repelling powers (or so we hear), and — whether Rachael Ray knows it or not — garlic offers a range of impressive health benefits.
But what if you don’t love the taste of garlic?
Well, even if you eat garlic as religiously as the 30-Minute Meals maven, and especially if you don't, you should consider adding a garlic supplement to your daily regimen.
Here’s what the herb has to offer and how the benefits of garlic, as a fresh ingredient, measure up against garlic in supplement form.
The Science Behind The Health Benefits of Garlic
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:
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 from garlic forms when fresh garlic bulbs are chopped or crushed, but it’s highly volatile and breaks down rapidly, so the benefits begin to diminish quickly.
Used in recipes, one study reported that garlic can help slow the growth of certain foodborne bacteria (although this is no substitute for proper food safety procedures). The study found that allicin exhibits antimicrobial activity against bacteria like E. coli, fungi like Candida albicans, and parasites like Giardia lamblia.
Garlic Can Reduce The Risk for Certain Cancers
Prostate and gastrointestinal cancers are 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 are effective against bacteria like H. pylori, which is linked to gastric cancer. Compounds in garlic may also stop the increase of cancer cells by disrupting their regular cycle of cell division or even triggering cell death.
Garlic Fends Off the Common Cold
In a respected report, it was found that the duration and severity of the common cold might be shortened with increased garlic consumption.
In comparing 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 supplement group. Fewer cold cases occurred in the garlic takers, and the garlic supplement participants recovered from their symptoms a day earlier on average. Why? The researchers pointed to garlic’s antimicrobial properties.
Garlic Reduces Chronic Inflammation
One study found that certain sulfur compounds isolated from garlic worked to suppress a protein complex that helps regulate the immune response and controls the expression of pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines. Based on their findings, the authors concluded that garlic can help address arthritic and other inflammatory diseases.
Garlic Can Lower Blood Pressure & Boost Cardiovascular Health
The same sulfuric compounds in garlic that offer protection against microbes and inflammation may also reduce blood pressure in people with too-high levels.
In one study, 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. The decrease was comparable to that seen in a participant’s blood pressure-lowering medication. 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 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 garlic is eaten raw. That’s because garlic is naturally acidic, irritating the esophagus and triggering heartburn and reflux.
The real issue in eating fresh garlic to reap the health benefits over a garlic supplement is that you’d have to eat a lot of it to rack up the benefits highlighted above — about three big, raw cloves of garlic a day.
Now, you might be saying, “I’ll just cook the garlic,” but cooked garlic is less ideal because, as mentioned before, allicin — the main sulfur chemical in garlic with therapeutic activity — breaks down rapidly, meaning the benefits also diminish quickly. Less than 1% of cooked garlic is absorbed in an active form that the body’s system can use to make anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting, and other health benefits of garlic a reality.
The Pros of Taking Garlic Supplements
Garlic supplements can deliver stabilized allicin and the health-promoting compounds in garlic in a form more easily accessed by the body. The allicin in garlic supplements can be used nearly 100% through an exclusive process.
In addition to being easier for the body’s systems to access and use, garlic supplements are also less likely to lead to an upset stomach.
The one important caveat to be aware of is garlic’s potential to interact with certain 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: Garlic Supplement vs. Raw Garlic
If you’re a garlic lover, enjoy it as often as you like — you’ll certainly get some of the health benefits of garlic. But if you 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 health benefits.
And if you’re looking for a supplement that not only provides the garlic you need per day for a healthy microbiome but also ensures maximum efficacy of your immune system, shoring up your body’s defenses against microbes before cold and flu season, try Vital Plan’s Advanced Biotic, which brings an impressive spectrum of health advantages to the table with its garlic and other clinical-grade herbs.