Garlic is common in many foods, but what some shoppers may not know is that garlic can benefit the body in multiple ways, beyond tickling our taste buds—and we don’t mean warding off vampires.
Fresh Garlic versus Supplement Forms
Fresh garlic can produce a compound called allicin, which is responsible for its potent odor. Some believe allicin is also the root of garlic’s health benefits, though it hasn’t been specifically tested in clinical trials. When fresh garlic is crushed, allicin is made through an enzymatic reaction. But, the compound is unstable and cooking it causes decomposition, making it less beneficial to our health (1).
Some garlic supplement makers, on the other hand, capture allicin in its fresh stage, concentrate it and pack it into tablet or capsule form, giving us garlic goodness without the garlic breath.
Better with Age?
There is a saying that all good things in life get better with age, but can this be true for garlic supplements as well? Rather than allicin, some companies focus on aged garlic extract (AGE), which maintains garlic’s antioxidant properties and transforms raw garlic’s harsh compounds into milder, more stable forms that can result in an odor- and taste-free supplement (1).
AGE is made by aging fresh organic garlic at room temperature for as long as 20 months. Carmia Borek, Ph.D., professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, states, “By combining this extraction/aging process, the antioxidant levels in the extract become higher than those in fresh. The process also converts garlic’s more unstable substances, which are generally not available to the body, such as its odor-generating compound oxidant allicin, to more stable, bioavailable, and health-promoting substances” (2). AGE is also said to offer more health benefits for immune health than other processing methods.
The aging technique also maintains beneficial sulfur-containing components of garlic that have been studied in clinical trials to be readily absorbed by the body. Some of these water-soluble compounds include cysteine derivatives such as S-allyl cysteine (SAC) and S-allyl mercaptocysteine (SAMC) (1).
A Shot to the Heart
Much evidence suggests that garlic can lower blood pressure (drops of 7–8% have been found), slow the development of atherosclerosis and even help reduce the risk of heart attacks by thinning the blood.
In a four-year study, patients who took 900 mg of standardized garlic powder experienced a delayed development of atherosclerosis. This study may reveal garlic to have anticoagulant, or blood-thinning, qualities that can help prevent heart attacks and strokes (3).
There is more evidence that shows garlic supplements can help with cardiovascular disease. In a randomized, double-blind study, researchers found that garlic supplements may significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. For one year, coronary artery disease patients received garlic supplements or a placebo. The patients who received the actual supplement saw a 1.3-fold decrease in cardiovascular risk compared to those who received the placebo. The supplement also was linked to a decrease in LDL cholesterol levels. Researchers believe that garlic supplements may be helpful in reducing the risk of atherosclerotic diseases (4).
In May of this year, WholeFoods reported on a study of 79 patients diagnosed with uncontrolled systolic hypertension. Over 12 weeks, the participants took AGE (either one, two or four capsules daily with each capsule containing 240 mg of the extract, including 0.6 mg of S-allyl cysteine) or a placebo. Those who took one daily dose of aged garlic extract saw no significant reduction in blood pressure compared to placebo; but, taking two capsules daily resulted in an 11.8 mm Hg reduction in blood pressure at 12 weeks and taking four capsules daily saw blood pressure decrease by 7.4 mm Hg at the eight-week mark.
Before modern medical advances, many people would crush garlic into their beverages to help prevent disease. Today, we can make use of garlic for immune support, luckily without the garlic-flavored drinks.
In a recent study with 120 healthy subjects, 60 participants were asked to take AGE and the other half were given a placebo. After 45 days, gamma-delta-T cells and NK cells in the AGE group multiplied better than those of the placebo group. After 90 days of supplementation, the placebo group’s health did not change much; however, the group consuming the AGE had less severe and fewer (21% less) cold and flu symptoms, fewer days (61% fewer) with cold/flu symptoms, fewer cases of cold/flu (58% fewer) that caused subjects to function sub-optimally and fewer work/school days missed due to illness (58% fewer). Thus, AGE may enhance immune cell function and this may be responsible, in part, for reduced severity of colds and flu (5). WF
1. Wakunaga of America, www.kyolic.com, accessed June 5, 2013.
2. C. Borek, “The All-Around Health Benefits of Aged Garlic Extract,” www.needs.com/product/HWC06-ESS-06/l_Garlic, accessed June 5, 2013.
3. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Garlic,” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/garlic-000245.htm, accessed June 5, 2013.
4. I.A. Sobenin, et al., “Garlic Powder Supplementation May Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risk,” Lipids Health Dis. 9 (1), 119 (2010).
5. M.P. Nantz, et al., “Supplementation with Aged Garlic Extract Improves Both NK and gamma-delta-T Cell Function And Reduces The Severity Of Cold And Flu Symptoms: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Nutrition Intervention,” Clin. Nutr. 31(3), 337–344 (2012).
Amanda Willis is a freelance writer based in Middletown, NJ.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2013