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This article was updated on July 18, 2019, by the original author.
Garlic’s health benefits have been recognized and recorded for more than three thousand years. Some sources say the history of garlic as medicine dates back much further, to more than five thousand years. This would not surprise me. The most famous figures in the history of health and healing strongly advocated garlic for many ills.
The History of Garlic
- In the Egyptian “Ebers Codex,” written in 1550 B.C., there were 22 different medicinal formulations that included Garlic. The use of Garlic by the pyramid builders, who believed garlic gave them greater strength, is inscribed on the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
- Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.), the founder of western medicine, recommended garlic for pneumonia and other infections, for cancer and for digestive disorders, as well as a diuretic to increase the flow of urine and a substance to improve menstrual flow.
- Dioscorides (1st century A.D.), the founder of the modern pharmacy, dispensed garlic to treat rabid dog bites, snake bites, infections, bronchitis and coughs, leprosy, and clogged arteries, as well as other conditions.
- Galen (129-199 A.D.), personal physician to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose writings influenced Arabic and western medicine for more than one thousand years, called Garlic “the theriac of the peasants,” and an inexpensive “cure-all” for countless ailments.
- 12th Century writer Alexander Neckam recommended it as a palliative for the heat of the sun in field labor.
- In his ‘Natural History,’ Pliny the Elder (23-79) offered a very long list of scenarios in which garlic would be beneficial. This list included everything from repelling serpents, scorpions and other beasts to curing Epilepsy. The list of what Pliny didn’t think Garlic could cure would be shorter.
- In the Middle Ages, a German nun, St. Hildegarde of Bingen, who wrote two medical textbooks, advocated raw Garlic to heal the sick.
- The London College of Physicians recommended garlic for the great plague in 1665. Around the same time, a leading English physician named Sydenham also used Garlic to cure smallpox.
- In 1858, Louis Pasteur demonstrated that Garlic could kill infectious germs.
- In the early and mid-20th century, Albert Schweitzer used Garlic in Africa to cure typhoid fever and cholera.
- Garlic was used during World War I to treat battle wounds and to cure dysentery.
- During World War II, Garlic was known as “Russian penicillin” because it was so effective in treating wound infections when adequate antibiotics were not available.
The Modern History of Garlic
Most modern research has been done on Garlic’s potential to reduce heart disease. And numerous large studies have shown that taking supplements that mimic fresh Garlic can significantly lower LDL cholesterol, without decreasing beneficial HDL cholesterol levels.
There is also some evidence that Garlic supplements can lower blood pressure, by dilating or expanding blood vessels. And Garlic helps prevent blood clots, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, by decreasing the stickiness of platelets – tiny, disk-shaped bodies in the blood that are necessary for blood clotting. When platelets are too sticky, they stick to the artery walls and contribute to clogged arteries.
Garlic has been shown to reduce pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
“According to the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, garlic is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to decrease the swelling and inflammation associated with arthritis. People who suffer from arthritis might be able to lead a more pain-free life by adding garlic to their diets.”1
Garlic also reduces the size of some cancerous tumors and helps prevents some cancers, especially those of the intestines.
“Several population studies show an association between increased intake of garlic and reduced risk of certain cancers, including cancers of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, and breast. … Several population studies show an association between increased intake of garlic and reduced risk of certain cancers, including cancers of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, and breast. … Evidence also suggests that increased garlic consumption may reduce pancreatic cancer risk. A study conducted in the San Francisco Bay area found that pancreatic cancer risk was 54 percent lower in people who ate larger amounts of garlic compared with those who ate lower amounts.”2
However, the research on Garlic and cancer is not nearly as advanced as that on Garlic and heart disease, so do not use Garlic to treat cancer without consulting with a natural health care professional.
One of the oldest uses for garlic, which has been proven, is as an antibiotic. Garlic kills a wide range of microbes, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, and can be effective against conditions such as athletes foot and thrush (a fungal infection of the mouth), viral diarrhea, and the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori. But only fresh Garlic or supplements that mimic fresh have these effects.
“A study performed at the University of Washington found that garlic was an effective treatment against certain types of bacteria, like c. jejeuni, commonly linked to food poisoning. Another paper published by the same researchers demonstrated garlic’s effectiveness against E. coli, another dangerous germ linked to bacterial food poisoning.”3
For best results, always use fresh Garlic or preparations that mimic fresh. Dried or cooked garlic, as well as Garlic oil, lose a significant amount of potency during processing. Preparations used for medicinal purposes should have an allicin potential of at least 6,000 mcg on the label. Alternately, eat one chopped clove of fresh garlic every day.
Good quality Garlic supplements will have the ‘allicin potential‘ listed on the label, not just a certain amount of allicin. The ‘potential’ indicates how much allicin will be released when it reaches your stomach. The supplements do not contain actual allicin, as it is extremely unstable and quickly breaks down. Allicin is the pungent chemical that gives garlic its sharp flavor. Good Garlic supplements contain allicin, the precursor to allicin. It is released only upon digestion, so your body makes and uses the allicin more efficiently.
You must be careful, however, not to take excess amounts of Garlic or Garlic supplements. A rare, but serious, side effect of excess Garlic use is spontaneous bleeding. This can also occur if you take it with prescription blood thinners. Do not exceed the recommended dose and do not take with prescription blood thinners, without consulting a healthcare professional.
Also, since Garlic will make breath and sweat smell unpleasant, you should take a chlorophyll supplement or eat fresh leafy green vegetable or parsley with the Garlic. Those closest to you, proximately and intimately, will appreciate it.
Modern scientists are slowly verifying the accuracy of many ancient beliefs about garlic, as well as adding new health benefits to its already extensive list. Nonetheless, whether or not garlic can cure rabies or leprosy remains to be seen. But who knows what old and new virtues Garlic researchers may discover in the future.
Let’s hope this natural medicine research trend continues long into the future. It’s quite possible that the history of garlic will include the solution to the impending superbug crisis. Fingers crossed.
1 Keefer, Amber. “Arthritis and Garlic”. Livestrong, June 19, 2015. Web. April 2017
2 ”Garlic and Cancer Prevention”. National Cancer Institute/ NIH, January 22, 2008. Web. April 2017
3 “Garlic vs. Antibiotics: Which Comes Out On Top?”Natural On, n.d. Web. April 2017
“Garlic History”. Allicin Facts, n.d. Web. April 2017
Ehrlich, Steven D, NMD. “Garlic”. University of Maryland Medical Center, June 22, 2015. Web. April 2017
Yeh YY and Liu L. “Cholesterol-lowering effects of garlic extracts and organosulfur compounds: human and animal studies”. Journal of Nutrition, March 2001. Web. April 2017
Forman, Adrienne. “Foods that Lower Cholesterol”. How Stuff Works: Health, n.d. Web. April 2017
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