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Garlic the Great!

Many uses over many years

Our knowledge of garlic's health benefits dates as far back as ancient Indian and Eastern medicine. Throughout history, garlic has been used as everything from an antibiotic to a tasty cooking ingredient. While many of the people who recognize garlic's health benefits today take it to reduce their cholesterol levels and help to reduce their risk of heart disease, the so-called stinking rose also functions as an antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, antioxidant, carminative, expectorant and diuretic. Generally speaking, it is known to stimulate the immune system.

Traditional uses have ranged from treatment of asthma and parasites to relief of hemorrhoids, kidney stones and menstrual abnormalities. Externally, it has been applied to skin rashes and abscesses and used to control lice and dandruff. It even has been employed as an aphrodisiac, although, given its characteristically strong odor, its effectiveness in that role seems unlikely.

In modern times, garlic has been associated most closely with high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The conventional medicine establishment has long held that the presence of a high level of cholesterol in the blood is the primary risk factor for heart disease and strokes. High cholesterol also is a factor in impotence and mental sluggishness.

Research confirms the benefits of Garlic

According to the authors of Smart Medicine for Healthier Living-Janet Zand, L.Ac., O.M.D., Allan N. Spreen, M.D., C.N.C. and James B. LaValle, R:Ph., N.D., the body manufactures all of the cholesterol that it needs through the liver. And when there is more cholesterol than the body's mechanisms can cope with, it is deposited on the interior of the blood vessel walls, narrowing them-a condition known as atherosclerosis.

Writing in The Garlic Book, Dr. Stephen Fulder asserts that garlic has been shown to lower the levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood "as effectively as many modern drugs now used for the purpose." Fulder also says that garlic thins the blood, which helps to prevent clots inside the blood vessels, and thus may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Garlic already is considered a medicine in Germany and Switzerland, where it is used to treat high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Many sources believe that the herb's power is in the alliin, which is a sulfur-containing version of an amino acid. As explained in Dr Earl Mindell's Garlic, The Miracle Nutrient, alliin helps to boost the levels of HDL cholesterol levels, (also known as the "good cholesterol" because it delivers excess cholesterol to the liver to be destroyed), and simultaneously slows down endogenous cholesterol synthesis, the body's own cholesterol manufacturing process. Mindell states, "Garlic is a terrific `cholesterol buster.' It raises HDL (the good cholesterol), lowers LDL (the bad cholesterol), and reduces triglycerides [an additional fatty substance that is combined with cholesterol in the body's lipoproteins]."

How much garlic is right for me?

The amount of garlic that should be consumed daily to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease still seems to be under some debate, although the average recommended dose is four grams, or one to two cloves daily. As a supplement, 500 mg of garlic three times daily is advised by the authors of Smart Medicine for Healthier Living. A Dutch research study, described in Varro E. Tyler's book, Herbs of Choice, concluded that garlic did, in deed, help lower cholesterol, thin the blood and reduce triglycerides, but only when participants consumed the equivalent of five to 20 cloves of garlic daily. On the other hand, in more recent studies, garlic has proved effective using a smaller dose of about one to two cloves daily.

There are a few reported side effects of garlic. Body odor and bad breath are the most obvious, although there also have been rare reports of an allergy to garlic. Tyler admits that large amounts of garlic "can result in heartburn, flatulence and related gastrointestinal problems." He continues, "Consumption of garlic reduces the clotting time of the blood, which (while aiding in the prevention of strokes) may cause medical problems in certain individuals (such as hemophiliacs)."

There are several ways garlic can be worked into the diet. Fresh garlic may be the simplest and least expensive method; however, this brings on the problem of odor. One way to remedy this is to wrap the clove in a peppermint leaf and swallow it whole. Many people, of course, choose to take garlic supplements, preferably enteric-coated tablets, which, according to Fulder, are capsules that pass through the stomach and release their contents in the small intestine-where they are most helpful and least likely to produce the unpleasant odor.

Finally, Steven Foster, author of Herbs for Your Health, suggests that, if you choose to add cooked garlic to your food, it should be added last. Otherwise, he says, alliin, the compound that makes garlic effective, gradually will vaporize into the air.

Garlic has been an integral part of health and society for centuries. According to Healing Herbal Remedies, one tale tells of how "society's first strike took place when garlic became scarce," and Fulder reveals that "the tomb of King Tutankhamen himself, contained six dried bulbs" of garlic. Is it possible that, when it came to Tut's health, "Mummy" knew best?

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