Garlic, or Allium sativum, is the edible bulb from a plant related to onions and leeks. You can eat garlic cooked or raw, and it is widely available in supplement form. Garlic contains compounds shown to benefit health, including the sulphur-containing thiosulfinates, dithiins and sulfoxides. The plant is also rich in manganese, vitamins B6 and C, tryptophan, calcium and selenium. Consult your doctor before making dietary changes or beginning supplementation with garlic.
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Garlic's protective role in cardiovascular health is fairly well established. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, high garlic intake may slightly lower blood cholesterol levels and can slow hardening of the arteries — a condition, called atherosclerosis that increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. The plant may also slightly lower blood pressure, especially in those with existing hypertension. Garlic also shows benefits as a blood thinner, notes the World's Healthiest Foods website, and may work to prevent blood clots. Additionally, garlic may have a relaxing effect on the walls of blood vessels by increasing nitric oxide levels.
Garlic may help prevent the development and growth of certain types of cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports that population studies in the U.S. show a lower incidence of several cancers in those with a high intake of garlic. This benefit is seen for colon, stomach, breast, pancreas and oesophageal cancer. Unfortunately, few clinical trials have been done as of 2010 to establish an association between garlic and cancer risk. The NCI speculates that garlic may help prevent cancer through its antibacterial properties or its ability to block the formation of and halt the activation of certain cancer-causing substances. Garlic may also promote repair of cancer-related DNA mutations, induce cancer-cell death and reduce cell proliferation. However, the NCCAM adds, a clinical trial on garlic's role in the prevention of stomach cancer found no benefit or effect.
Anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal benefits
The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that garlic supplements may be beneficial at both preventing the common cold and in speeding recovery from cold related symptoms. The plant may also work as an antiparasitic against roundworm infection when taken in large doses, although this benefit has been seen only in the laboratory, and garlic's antiparasitic properties have not been fully tested in humans. Garlic also contains compounds that inhibit the action of certain inflammatory enzymes, thereby reducing inflammation and potentially benefiting patients with asthma and arthritis, according to World's Healthiest Foods. Moreover, garlic may limit the damaging effects of the bacteria responsible for causing some ulcers and shows some benefit as a topical antifungal medication.
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