You've heard the maxim about apples, but does a clove of garlic a day also keep the doctor away? If you're wondering whether you should be eating whole garlic cloves, here's what you need to know.
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Garlic is a member of the lily family — yes, really! — along with onions, chives, leeks and shallots, according to Michigan State University Extension (MSU Extension). MSU Extension explains that it originated in Asia and that mankind has been eating it for its medicinal properties for more than 5,000 years.
Garlic is chock-full of nutrients and has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. However, eating garlic can have some side effects, and many of its health benefits are yet to be scientifically proven.
Read more: Which Is Healthier, Raw or Cooked Garlic?
Eating Whole Garlic Cloves
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), people take garlic to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and to prevent cancer, the common cold and other health conditions.
However, the NCCIH states that though there are many claims about the benefits of eating a clove of garlic a day, the scientific evidence in this space is inconclusive. According to the NCCIH, while garlic has been the subject of many research studies, many of them are too small in scale, too preliminary or not good enough in quality to be definitive.
For example, the NCCIH states that research studies investigating whether garlic can lower your cholesterol levels have shown either a very small effect or no effect on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is the "bad" cholesterol. The NCCIH also notes that garlic may be good for blood pressure; however, the evidence isn't as strong as it should be.
The NCCIH does however recognize garlic as a potential anticarcinogen, and there is evidence to show that people who eat garlic are less likely to develop stomach and colon cancer.
If you're wondering where that leaves you on the "whole clove of garlic a day" issue, perhaps you should think of it this way: garlic has been used as a natural remedy for thousands of years, and so far, studies have not disproved its benefits. There just isn't enough scientific evidence for the medical community to be sure.
A March 2015 study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research notes that garlic is packed with nutrients like potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and vitamins B and C. So, even if the health benefits of eating whole garlic cloves have yet to be proven, you're still getting a lot of nutrition.
Furthermore, the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) says that chopping or crushing garlic results in the formation of allicin, a potent, foul-smelling sulfuric compound that has antibiotic properties and is considered the substance responsible for most of garlic's benefits.
Raw Garlic Side Effects
If you've ever eaten it raw, you're probably already familiar with at least one of garlic's side effects: foul breath. MSU Extension explains that the oils in garlic spread through the tissues in your lungs and stay there long after you've eaten it, giving you not only bad breath but also body odor.
Apart from odor, the Linus Pauling Institute notes that eating raw garlic also has side effects like heartburn, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and belching.
However, the most dangerous of garlic's side effects is the risk of bleeding. The NCCIH says that if you're on blood thinners or have a surgery coming up, you should check with your health care provider before you start eating raw garlic or taking garlic supplements, as garlic affects your body's ability to form blood clots and can cause you to bleed excessively. Garlic may also interfere with the efficacy of some drugs.
A study published in the January-February 2014 issue of the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine states that the effects of eating garlic in pregnant and lactating women and young children are unknown, so it may be best avoided in those cases.
- Michigan State University Extension: “Stinking Facts About Garlic”
- Michigan State University Extension: “Eat Garlic for Your Health”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Garlic”
- Cancer Prevention Research: “Garlic and Onions: Their Cancer Prevention Properties”
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Garlic”
- Linus Pauling Institute: “Garlic”
- Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine: “Garlic: A Review of Potential Therapeutic Effects”