Shedding light on the health benefits of garlic

Shedding light on the health benefits of garlic

Author -  Vicki Martin, Nutritionist and Naturopath

Naturopath Vicki Martin describes research that sheds light on exactly why garlic has so many health benefits

The many benefits of Garlic

Garlic has been used as a herbal medicine for centuries. It’s been shown to have benefits for all sorts of conditions, including:

  • Supporting healthy heart and liver function
  • Maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Fighting off colds, flus and other common respiratory infections
  • Supporting general immunity
  • Helping the body combat fungal infections like tinea (athletes foot) and yeast infections like candida (thrush)

The Garlic puzzle: how can a little bit of allicin go such a long way?Now, Ontario’s Queen's University research team may have discovered why garlic has so many benefits.

Up till now, researchers have known that allicin, an organic compound that gives garlic its characteristic smell and flavour, acts as a powerful antioxidant. However it hasn't been clear how allicin works to stop the damaging effects of free radicals that can cause disease and ill health.

Researcher Derek Pratt says his team didn’t understand how allicin could function so efficiently in Garlic. Most of the time, plants that have a strong antioxidant effect contain very high levels of a particular antioxidant compound. Examples he gave included the flavonoids in green tea, or grapes. But Garlic didn’t seem to contain enough allicin to account for its powerful antioxidant effect.

What if the allicin in Garlic isn’t the end story?

The answer to the puzzle came when researchers started wondering whether allicin broke down into something else. Pratt’s team conducted a series of experiments, and discovered that the allicin in Garlic decomposed into a compound called Sulfenic acid. Sulfenic acid is highly reactive, almost immediately destroying any free radicals it comes into contact with. “No one has ever seen antioxidant compounds react this quickly,” Pratt said. “The reaction is as fast as it can get – limited only by the time it takes for the two molecules to come into contact.” Of course, this research doesn’t explain everything about the way Garlic works. It may, however, but the first step in explaining the chemical reasons for Garlic’s excellent health benefits over the centuries.

These findings are published in the January 2009 issue of the international chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.