Garlic is one of many naturally antibiotic herbs and has been eaten for its nutritional and medical benefits for more than 5,000 years, according to Michigan State University. That said, should you be taking garlic as an antibiotic?
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While garlic is an antibiotic herb and is marketed as a natural antibiotic supplement, you should not take it instead of antibiotic medication prescribed to you by your doctor.
Just so you're clear on what antibiotics are, here's a short refresher, as explained by the University of Michigan. Antibiotics are a type of medicine that have the ability to kill bacteria, and are therefore prescribed by doctors to combat bacterial infections. They are extremely effective at treating some infectious diseases and have saved countless lives; however, they do have side effects as well.
Antibiotics cannot fight viral infections, caused by viruses, which is why they are not prescribed (or should not be prescribed, rather, though they often are) for illnesses like the cold and flu.
Garlic: An Antibiotic Herb
Garlic, along with onions, leeks, chives and shallots, belongs to the lily family. Yes, you read that right! Garlic is packed with a number of vitamins and minerals; a study published in the March 2015 issue of the journal Cancer Prevention Research notes that garlic contains nutrients like vitamins B and C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium.
Per the University of Rochester, garlic also contains a compound called alliin. When garlic is chopped or crushed, alliin forms another substance, called allicin, which is supposed to have powerful antibacterial properties and other health benefits as well.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), garlic is commonly used as a dietary supplement to treat health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and the common cold. People also take garlic supplements to prevent cancer and diabetes. But does it work? And is it an effective antibiotic?
Garlic: A Natural Antibiotic Supplement?
The NCCIH does not recognize garlic as a natural antibiotic and therefore does not endorse its use as a natural antibiotic supplement.
Per the NCCIH, though garlic has been used as a medicinal herb by many ancient civilizations, including the Native Americans, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Japanese and Chinese, there isn't enough scientific research to adequately back up the health benefits of garlic. While garlic has been the subject of several research studies, many of them were either too small, too preliminary or too poor in quality to be conclusive.
The NCCIH states that there isn't sufficient evidence to show whether garlic can treat the common cold and that the research into whether or not it benefits your cholesterol levels has shown mixed results.
The NCCIH does, however, recognize that garlic may be able to treat blood pressure, but the existing evidence is weak. It also states that people who eat garlic regularly may be less likely to develop certain cancers, like colon and stomach cancer.
The Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine published a review of the therapeutic benefits of garlic in its January-February 2014 issue. The review found that while garlic may be a potential treatment for several health conditions, further research is required to understand how safe and effective it is.
So where does that leave you? Should you be eating garlic? Should you be taking garlic as a natural antibiotic supplement? If so, how much? The NCCIH says garlic is safe to consume in food, so you should try to include it in your meals as often as you can, since it is both nutritious and has a number of natural health benefits.
If you want to take garlic supplements, you should discuss it with your doctor first, because apart from foul breath and body odor, the NCCIH lists heartburn, stomach upsets, allergic reactions and the risk of excessive bleeding as some of the side effects of garlic.
Your doctor will be able to guide you as to whether or not to take the supplements, and how much to take. You should not under any circumstances substitute garlic for antibiotic medication that you have been prescribed without discussing it with your doctor first.
- Michigan State University: “Eat Garlic for Your Health”
- University of Michigan: “Antibiotics: Less Is More”
- Michigan State University: “Stinking Facts About Garlic”
- Cancer Prevention Research: “Garlic and Onions: Their Cancer Prevention Properties”
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Garlic”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Garlic”
- Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine: “Garlic: A Review of Potential Therapeutic Effects”