Garlic- an Herb for Everyone!

garlic heads

Garlic- an Herb for Everyone!

Garlic, Allium Sativum has been used since time immemorial, both as a cooking spice and as a medicinal herb. Garlic is mentioned in the Bible. Hippocrates and Galen mention its use for many conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine dates its usage back to 510 A.D. And Louis Pasteur studied garlic in the 19th century for its antibacterial action. Soldiers during both World Wars used garlic to prevent gangrene.
As something that many of my patients typically have at home, it becomes a mainstay of home remedies. I encourage all of my patients to incorporate it into their diets for the health benefits it confers.
This newsletter discusses the benefits of this wonderful herb and some home remedies you may find interesting and useful.
What are the active constituents?:
Garlic contains a compound called alliin and an enzyme called allinase which are held in separate compartments of the plant as a protective mechanism for the plant when it comes “under attack” (by your Italian grandmother, for example). The enzyme reacts with the alliin to release allicin only when the plant is crushed. At that point, the odor of the garlic is released too.
Allicin is the powerful sulphurous compound to which most of garlic’s health-inducing properties are attributed.
Allicin is strongest in fresh crushed or chewed garlic and is inactivated by cooking.What are the common uses of garlic?:
1) Heart Health:
Although not all studies agree (this is likely an issue of standardization of products used), some studies indicate that garlic can lower total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides. Garlic also helps to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Garlic inhibits platelet aggregation which is needed for clot formation, and increases fibrinolysis (breaking up clots). This results in a blood thinning effect. Garlic is also a mild anti-hypertensive, decreasing blood pressure. These properties decrease plaque formation which can block flow of blood though the arteries (known as atherosclerosis) and thereby lower the overall risk of cardiovascular disease.
2) Antioxidant:
Garlic is a potent antioxidant; helping to neutralize free radicals; particles which can damage cell components contributing to a number of health conditions (including heart disease and cancers) as well as aging.
3) Cancer prevention:
Population studies suggest that eating garlic regularly decreases the risk of stomach, colon, breast, prostate, and esophageal cancer. This may be due to garlic’s immune enhancing effects as well as its antioxidant properties. Some studies suggest that aged garlic supplements may reduce chemotherapy side effects (such as fatigue and decreased appetite) in those suffering from cancer.
4) Anti-infective properties:
Garlic is an immune system booster. It has been found to have antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic, and antifungal activity. It is useful in infections, especially colds, coughs, bronchitis, and ear infections. I often recommend garlic oil preparations for middle ear infections. I use garlic in my practice for treating vaginal infections of various causes.
5) Skin infections and wound care:
Garlic may be of benefit in topical skin infections caused by fungi and also in wound care.
Interestingly, one case report exists in the literature regarding the use of garlic in treating MRSA infections. MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) is gaining much media attention based on the fact that infections caused by this organism, once confined to hospital settings, are now spreading to the community. There have been recent cases of MRSA skin infections in schools and at least one death of a child from a community-acquired infection that has been reported during this recent outbreak. The fear of MRSA infection is that this organism has developed resistance to many antibiotics. This case report demonstrated effective use of oral and topic allicin preparations in treating an MRSA infection of a spinal surgical wound not healed after several years of conventional antibiotic use (even IV antibiotics).

How is garlic used:
1) Incorporate garlic into your daily diet. Fresh is best and most potent. You can chew one or two whole cloves of raw garlic a day (as long as you do not suffer digestive upset as a result).
2) Garlic Oil: this is often used for middle ear infections (but should be avoided if the ear drum has burst). Crushed cloves are stirred with an oil carrier (often, a high quality, pure olive oil) and allowed to stand for about 48 hours. The oil is then filtered.
3) Garlic can be made into in infusion to treat colds and other viral or bacterial infections. I advise some of my patients to make an infusion using boiled water, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, some freshly grated ginger root, and a small amount of un-pasteurized honey. A sprinkle of cayenne pepper can be added too. The infusion should be covered and allowed to steep for 10 minutes before drinking.
4) Garlic “tampons” can be used as a home remedy for vaginosis. A naturopath or herbalist may recommend that a patient string a garlic clove with thread or floss and insert it vaginally as part of a treatment protocol for a yeast or bacterial vaginal infection. Although I have made this recommendation to some of patients in the past, my preference is always to have an accurate diagnosis of the cause of the vaginosis before initiating treatment, so that we know exactly what we’re dealing with.
5) I often recommend that patients with heart disease and or cancer risk incorporate garlic into their diet.
6) Liquid preparations of garlic can be used on wounds. Great care should be taken to use only the purest of preparations in wound care.
For those who prefer a less odorous form, enteric-coated tablets or capsules or powder forms are available.
Bear in mind that different preparations of garlic have different strengths. If you’re going to use the supplement form of the herb, you should select a high quality (GMP certified) supplement which has been standardized for allicin or ask your natural health practitioner about a “professional brand product” which has been rigorously tested.
Encapsulated garlic products must be enteric coated to avoid destruction of the allinase enzyme by stomach acid.
Powder supplements of garlic are prepared to preserve the alliin and allinase content and, when added to water, allicin is produced.
Aged garlic products are fermented to break down the allicin into compounds which are thought to be more absorbable by the human body.

Side effects:
Garlic is generally considered to have very low toxicity and is considered to be safe for consumption by most people.
The most notorious side effect of garlic use is very well known- in fact, most of us have experienced it after a large helping of garlic bread… Bad breath and body odor.
Garlic can cause digestive problems in some people who are sensitive, especially if used in high doses in the raw form. Symptoms include abdominal discomfort, gas, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Other possible but rare reactions include headache, muscle pain, fatigue, vertigo, watery eyes, and asthma.

1) Because of the blood thinning effects of garlic, large doses should be avoided prior to surgery and delivery. Garlic supplements or high dose use of the fresh herb should be avoided if you’re taking blood thinners (especially Coumadin), and to a lesser degree, nonsteroidal anti-inflmmatory drugs (like Indocin) and Aspirin.
2) Garlic may reduce blood levels of protease inhibitors (such as Indinavir) which are used to treat HIV.
3) Garlic appears to be safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding. That being said, if a baby is suffering colic, removing garlic from the mom’s diet may be something to consider.

Bottom Line:
Garlic is a wonderful and versatile herb with many healing properties. Include it in your daily diet for health prevention and maintenance… Your Uncle Vinnie would be proud!

Please Note: This information is for educational purposes only. Consultation with a licensed health care practitioner is recommended for anyone suffering from a health ailment. You are free to use the information in this newsletter or pass it on to others, but please keep it intact and credit it to Dr. Leat Kuzniar, ND.

Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND
Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND

Dr. Kuzniar is a board member of the New Jersey Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is also a member of the Gastroenterology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She currently holds a State of Vermont Naturopathic Physician license (as New Jersey does not yet offer licensing for Naturopathic doctors).