You know garlic as an odorous but flavorful addition to many food dishes. But garlic cloves are packed with potential health benefits because of their natural phytochemicals that may have positive effects on the body. Although the herb can be a useful supplement for both genders, it may be especially helpful for men at risk of certain chronic disorders, including cardiovascular disease and prostate problems.
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Several compounds in garlic are antioxidants that help the body rid itself of unstable molecules called free radicals that form during digestion or after exposure to toxins. Free radicals can raise your risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which over time can contribute to coronary artery disease, a problem the American Heart Association says is especially prevalent in men over 45. A 2010 review published in "Current Pharmaceutical Design" that examined findings from 53 clinical trials with various herbal remedies found that consuming garlic may help lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol levels also can contribute to atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. Experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center note that garlic also has blood-thinning properties that slow clot formation, potentially helping lower the risk of stroke and other circulatory problems.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center reports that compounds in garlic may have significant anti-cancer properties, helping protect you from some types of cancer, including stomach, colon and prostate. A study published in the November 2002 issue of the "Journal of the National Cancer Institute" included subjects with and without diagnosed cases of prostate cancer and found that consumption of garlic was associated with a significantly lower risk of developing the disease. These results are promising, but studies that identify a direct link between compounds in garlic and protection from prostate cancer are still needed to confirm this benefit.
Garlic compounds may have positive effects on your immune system, helping you ward off or recover more quickly from illness. A study published in a 2001 issue of "Advances in Therapy" that included 46 healthy subjects who took a garlic supplement or placebo found that those who consumed garlic were less likely to develop the common cold and, if they did, were able to recover more quickly than those in the placebo group. Memorial Sloan-Kettering experts say garlic compounds are natural antibiotics that may support immune function by stimulating cells called t-lymphocytes and macrophages to increase in number and become more active, helping them fight off potentially harmful pathogens.
You can increase your intake of healthy garlic compounds by consuming fresh, crushed garlic regularly or by taking garlic supplements. These are available as powdered preparations of dried garlic or as aged, odorless garlic extract, either in capsules or pills. Garlic supplements are generally considered safe, although some products might cause bloating or gastric upset. Garlic can interact with certain medicines, including blood-thinners, anti-viral medications or other prescription drugs. Before taking garlic, discuss its use as an herbal supplement with your doctor to decide if it might be helpful for you.