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Can Garlic Boost Immune Function?

Can Garlic Boost Immune Function?

Garlic has been a staple ingredient in both food and medicine for centuries. As many as 5000 years ago, Egyptian and Indian cultures began using garlic for a variety of purposes, and the history of garlic use spans the course of 2000 years in Chinese culture. Medicinally, it has been suggested that garlic was used to help with both digestion and respiration. Worm infestation was also often treated using garlic.

Today, garlic is still used medicinally for such things as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the hardening of arteries. Conditions such as osteoarthritis may also be supplementally treated using garlic. With the widespread medicinal use of this food, it’s no wonder that many bodily systems can benefit from it – but can garlic boost immune function?

Does garlic build your immune system up?

Research has shown that garlic, when used appropriately, can significantly help the body fight off pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and other germs. It’s a particular compound found in this flavorful food that does the job. Garlic contains high amounts of alliin, a type of sulfoxide derived from an amino acid known as cysteine. Cysteine helps the body make protein and regulate metabolic function.

When garlic is chewed or crushed, the compound alliin transforms into another type of compound known as allicin, which is a kind of organosulfur. Allicin is also the reason why garlic has such a distinct taste and smell. Sulfur is often the most abundant mineral that can be found in the body at any given time. That said, because allicin is an unstable compound, it has to convert into other compounds that contain sulfur to be used by the body.

The compounds that are created are the ones that help the body fight diseases because of the way they encourage immune cells (i.e. white blood cells) to fight off pathogens more effectively. 

Can you eat garlic for colds and flu?

While not every cold or flu can be warded off with garlic, there have been numerous studies on the effects it has on these types of infections, and the results are promising.

There are a few ways garlic can protect the body from cold and flu viruses. One study investigating the effects of garlic found that it has significant antiviral activity, meaning it can block a virus’ ability to enter cells, which in turn hinders its ability to replicate and spread throughout the body. Because of these effects, a person who comes into contact with a virus may not actually experience the symptoms that usually go along with it because the virus wasn’t given the chance to spread and cause illness.


Image by ji jiali on Unsplash: What’s the best way to eat garlic for immune function?


In another study, one group of people were given a garlic supplement for 12 weeks, while the control group was given a placebo. Over the course of the study, the control group reported 65 instances of the common cold, whereas the garlic supplement group reported only 24.

Other research has investigated garlic as a potential treatment option in people who are already sick and found that it may be able to lessen the duration of an illness. A study investigating the duration of colds found that people who took garlic extract throughout cold and flu season got over their illnesses much quicker than those who didn’t.

How to eat garlic for immune system health

When you’re looking to utilize garlic as an immune system helper, there are certain ways that may be better than others. Because of the way garlic is processed, its medicinal benefits may be compromised in certain situations. For example, if garlic is heated, it may not be as effective because heat can deactivate the active ingredient that provides the body with all those medicinal benefits for the immune system. That being said, it is possible that if you crush the garlic and let it rest for at least 10 minutes prior to cooking it, it may maintain its medicinal integrity.

The best ways to ingest garlic in order to reap the benefits of its medicinal properties are by crushing or slicing prior to eating it – or you can even try eating it raw! Raw garlic will offer the most medicinal benefits, but it will also be stronger in both taste and smell.


Image by Sébastien Marchand on Unsplash: Does garlic help with the cold or flu?


Can you take a garlic supplement for immune system function?

Another way to get more garlic into your diet is to take garlic supplements. Other forms of non-whole garlic that can be consumed to provide the same benefits include:

  • Powdered garlic: While powdered garlic doesn’t have allicin in it, it is thought that it does contain some lingering medicinal properties because of the way it is processed at low heat. The enzyme alliinase can make through the process; when it gets into the stomach, it actually converts into alliin and then again to allicin within the intestines.
  • Aged garlic extract: To make this extract, raw garlic is sliced and stored in ethanol for roughly a year and a half. While there is also no allicin in this type of garlic, the medicinal properties remain, and aged garlic has shown great benefit when it comes to fighting colds or flus.

So how much garlic should you take? There is no regulated amount, but studies have found that 100mg, or three or four cloves of raw garlic every day, is the best amount to reap the benefits.

If you haven’t yet tried garlic for medicinal purposes, there is a lot of promising evidence out there that gives you the perfect excuse to add an extra couple cloves to your next recipe!


Featured image by Alexander Lyubavin on Unsplash

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