To some, garlic is just an aromatic that adds a delicious kick of flavor to their dishes, but to health nuts, garlic is the holy grail of the allium (onion) family. It has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes across many cultures for thousands of years; studies have linked garlic to curing everything from acne to hair loss to athlete’s foot. Most recently, it got some buzz in the media when The Wall Street Journal published an article examining the scientifically unsupported hype surrounding garlic’s possible mosquito-repelling abilities. LivingHealthy turned to Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah Winfrey’s go-to nutrition guru, New York City-based internist and functional and integrative medicine expert Frank Lipman, MD, to separate fact from fiction on this hot health and wellness topic.
“Like many herbs, garlic has multiple medicinal qualities and it tastes great on food, making it an easy—and beneficial—addition to meals,” says Lipman. Garlic’s primary health benefit is from its immune-boosting properties, making it a particularly sought-after herb during the cold winter months. “It has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, helping the body fight off infectious diseases like common colds and flus,” Lipman explains. It is these same immune-boosting benefits that can show up in other positive ways, such as increased vitality, better sleep and clearer skin.
According to Lipman, garlic is also heart-healthy. “It contributes by helping normalize blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease,” he says. As for the more unconventional uses of garlic, Lipman does not endorse or promote the wide spectrum of ways garlic is being used, such as “topically on the skin to relieve irritations and bug bites, and to help clear acne.” Lipman tells LivingHealthy that he’s also heard of homemade herbal cough syrups and insect repellant sprays that contain garlic, lemon juice, and water, and garlic treatments for yeast and ear infections as well as cold sores, but doesn’t recommend any of these home remedies.
When it comes to consumption, there are many options for how to get your daily fill of garlic (capsules, tablets and powders are just a few), but Lipman insists that ingesting garlic the old-fashioned way, in whole food form, is your best bet. “Eating garlic in its raw form is the best way to reap its medicinal benefits,” says Lipman, who suggests adding it to meals, such as with roasted veggies or in a salad dressing, but has also seen “people who choose to cut up a clove into smaller pieces and swallow it like a pill.”
If you’re worried about bad breath, don’t overdo it and eat an entire bulb! According to Lipman, when taken in appropriate amounts—one to two garlic cloves per day—there shouldn’t be any adverse side effects. “Because everyone is different, one might experience a strong taste or smell,” adds Lipman, who recommends “discontinuing its use if you experience any noticeable reactions.”
So go ahead and eat your garlic!