What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Garlic?

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The story of garlic's role in human history could fill a book, as indeed it has, many times. Its species name, sativum, means cultivated, indicating that garlic does not grow in the wild. So fond have humans been of this herb that garlic can be found almost everywhere in the world, from Polynesia to Siberia.

From Roman antiquity through World War I, garlic poultices were used to prevent wound infections. The famous microbiologist Louis Pasteur performed some of the original work showing that garlic could kill bacteria. In 1916, the British government issued a general plea for the public to supply it with garlic in order to meet wartime needs. Garlic was called Russian penicillin during World War II because, after running out of antibiotics, the Russian government turned to...

Garlic is widely used as an all-around treatment for preventing or slowing the progression of atherosclerosis (the cause of most heart attacks and strokes ). 1 2 However, there is actually relatively little in the way of meaningful evidence that it works for this purpose. The balance of the evidence suggests that garlic is not effective for treating high cholesterol , 3 ; there is only minimal evidence that it offers any benefits for people with high blood pressure . 4 According to some, but not all, studies, garlic might have blood-thinning effects, 5 but whether this translates into any medical benefit remains unclear.

One study found preliminary evidence that use of garlic could enhance blood sugar control in diabetes . 6 Garlic has a long folkloric history...

Safety Issues

As a commonly used food, garlic is on the FDA's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list. Rats have been fed gigantic doses of aged garlic (2,000 mg per kilogram body weight) for 6 months without any signs of negative effects. 7 Long-term treatment with standardized garlic powder at a dose equivalent to three times the usual dose, along with fish oil, produced no toxic effects in rats. 8 The only common side effect of garlic is unpleasant breath odor. Even "odorless garlic" produces an offensive smell in up to 50% of those who use it. 9 Other side effects occur only rarely. For example, a study that followed 1,997 people who were given a normal dose of deodorized garlic daily over a 16-week period showed a 6% incidence of nausea, a 1.3% incidence of...