Allium is the genus of plants whose role in health is indisputable. Allium represents the family of onions. There are more than a thousand species of allium, which makes it one of the largest genera of plants in the world.
Garlic is medicinally the most important of the allium species. Other members include onions, shallots, leeks and chives. Strong odors are characteristic of all allium species.
Allium sativum or garlic, is a spice that adds a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor to food. It also provides aromas that stimulate the appetite receptors in the brain to promote eating. It’s phytocompounds bind with receptorss causing them to become sensitive to leptin, the neuropeptide that turns off eating.
Garlic is therefore an appetite regulator as well as a stimulators. A natural built in balance that is lacking in fast-food. In fact, comfort foods promote overeating by the absence of these balancing phytocompound, replaced with the addictive compounds added by food manufacturers.
The ancestor of modern garlic arose in Central Asia. Cultivated for over 5000 years, garlic is Nature’s most perfect foods. Its underground bulb contains fleshy cloves. Cloves contain a library of compounds. Activity due to its acrid or bitter compounds. Garlic is used extensively in food for its flavor and ability to stimulate appetite. Garlic is one of the fundamental foods of preventive medicine.
Garlic (raw, sautéed in oil, steam distilled, or freeze-dried) contains libraries of phytonutrients. Some act as chemical agents directly while others must be converted into active ones by the body.
Garlic yields a different library of compounds depending on the way it is prepared. The active agents are all sulfur containing compounds. Sulfur’s presence lends aromaticity and gives garlic its odoriferous nature. Additionally, garlic owes many of its beneficial health effect to the incorporation of sulfur into the molecule allicin, the active ingredient of garlic.
Garlic contains volatile oils (alliin). When the plant’s tissues are crushed, the volatile alliin is exposed to the garlic enzyme, allinase. Allinase converts inactive alliin to allicin, which is converted to the odoriferous and antibacterial compound, diallyl disulphide.
Other constituents of garlic include the recently discovered mineral germanium, thought to reduce the risk of cancer. Germanium is part of an oxygenating therapy for cancer that employs the injection of germanium sesquioxide. Studies in Japan indicate that germanium inhibits the cancer process by enhancing natural killer cell activity and increases the availability of oxygen to all cells. Cancer cells do not thrive under oxygen-rich environment. Garlic’s sulfur compounds are protectively enhanced from oxidation by the presence of selenium.
Some of the lesser-known phytochemicals of garlic also produce beneficial effects. These effects depend on the presence of ajoene (a secondary degradation product of alliin).
Ajoene is believed to inhibit platelet aggregation. It has been proposed that ajoene exerts its effect by altering the platelet membrane via an interaction with sulfhydryl groups
Ajoene is a potent inhibitor of prostaglandin synthase and lipoxygenase activity, the enzymes responsible for the inflammatory response to tissue injury.
Effects of Garlic
Garlic has been used since the dawn of history to ward off evil spirits and pathogenic organisms. While its effect of vampires is debatable, its prevention of microbial growth is not. Garlic and its sulfur content are plant based antibiotics.
In addition, garlic is known to purify and disinfect the lungs as the volatile oil alliin passes through the alveoli and the bronchial tree.
World travelers are often advised to place garlic in various body parts to ward off infections.
Healers advocate garlic cloves to enhance the body’s immunological activity and heighten its resistance to disease. Crushed by the process of mastication in the mouth, garlic suppresses dental and throat infections.
Garlic has also been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels after meals in which it is consumed. Research indicates that the LDL fraction of serum lipoproteins, the lousy cholesterol, is reduced with half a clove of garlic a day.
Garlic also increase the formation of high-density lipoproteins, the healthy form of cholesterol that facilitates removal from arterial tissue.
Garlic is known to reduce the tendency towards forming blood clots (thrombi) by inhibiting platelet aggregation as well as by reducing the level of fibrinogen, a clotting precursor.
Garlic has strong anti-inflammatory activity and reduces prostaglandin, leukotriene and thromboxane formation. In addition, garlic’s vasodilation properties cause a reduction in blood pressure and may prevent the formation of blood clots.
Garlic extracts have demonstrated the ability to suppress the formation of nitrosamines from dietary nitrites. Nitrites are preservatives used in processed meat. Nitrosamines are carcinogenic compounds, which initiate changes in cell DNA.
These mutations as they are known are believed to account for the aggressive growth of cancer cells. Garlic is believed to interfere in every phase of the cancer process.
The allylsulfides increase the ‘phase 2’ liver detoxification enzyme (glutathione transferase) that increases the solubility of cancer metabolizes and expedites their excretion from the body.
Garlic’s effects on the digestive system involve a stimulation of gut secretions and activities. Garlic promotes the colonization of healthy intestinal flora while its anti-pathogenic activity discourages undesirable settlement. Garlic enhances peristaltic activity and restores gut motility.
The glucokinins present in garlic are believed to improve pancreatic performance by increasing the production of insulin and glucagon. As such, garlic is often included in the diet of diabetics and hypoglycemics.
The importance of garlic to health is well documented and is therefore highly recommended.
The importance of limiting and minimizing injury, the increased resistance to infection, the improved assimilation of nutrients and their delivery through improved circulatory dynamics are among the chief reasons why athletic performance would be enhanced by garlic.