When it comes to lowering your cholesterol and improving heart health, there are a lot of foods that can help. But if you're looking for a way to add flavor to a dish while also helping your heart, garlic may be the answer.
Some studies have shown that garlic and garlic supplements may have positive effects on heart health by preventing cell damage, regulating cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Other research shows that garlic supplements may also reduce plaque buildup in the arteries.
Don't let something like a little garlic breath scare you away from this superfood. Here are a few benefits to adding garlic or garlic supplements to your diet:
Our bodies need antioxidants to help prevent or slow cell damage caused by unstable molecules called "free radicals." Free radicals can be naturally occurring in the body or can come from external sources such as radiation exposure, smoking, air pollution or chemicals. Too many free radicals can lead to oxidation stress, a condition linked to chronic illnesses, including heart disease.
Garlic is an excellent source of antioxidants, including selenium, vitamin C and quercetin (a phytochemical found in plants with anti-inflammatory capabilities). Garlic also has small amounts of manganese, an essential component of some antioxidant enzymes.
High blood pressure is one of the key risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause the walls of your arteries to become overstretched. This can lead to damage and scarring. The American Heart Association reports that nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure.
A 2019 study published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine showed that garlic supplements helped lower blood pressure. Researchers determined that this change in blood pressure reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 16-40%. The results came from an analysis of 12 studies involving 553 people diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Another study published in 2016 showed that aged garlic extract supplements helped lower blood pressure and improved overall cholesterol levels.
Healthy arteries are elastic and flexible. But as we age, they can become stiff, hard and may have plaque buildup — all of which restrict blood flow. Because garlic may help lower high blood pressure, it may also help prevent the scarring and hardening associated with atherosclerosis.
Some research has also shown that aged garlic extract can help reduce the amount of "soft plaque" in the arteries. Soft plaque is more likely to break off and cause a blockage that leads to a heart attack.
One small study, which involved 55 patients ages 40-75, tracked how the garlic supplement worked for a year. In the end, researchers found those who took the supplement saw an 80% reduction in soft plaque.
While some studies have shown that garlic can benefit cholesterol levels, more research is needed. In particular, scientists are looking to learn more about its long-term effect on cholesterol and the heart.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in your blood. There are two types of cholesterol: "bad" cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol, and "good" cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol. Having too much LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol in your blood can raise your risk for severe health problems.
A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine concluded that a garlic-lemon juice mixture may benefit cholesterol. The small study, which involved 112 people ages 30-60, showed that garlic and lemon juice (taken together) helped decrease total cholesterol and lower blood pressure. However, researchers recorded the results after only eight weeks.
An analysis of studies done between 1955-2013 also showed that garlic "moderately to significantly" lowers total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. When taken for more than two months, the garlic helped reduce total cholesterol by 8%.
Garlic's benefits don't just stop with the heart. Here are some other reasons why your body may appreciate an extra dose of this onion family member.
Research suggests eating fresh garlic may help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. The Iowa Women's Health Study showed that women who regularly included garlic in their diet (along with other fruits and vegetables) had a 35% reduced risk of developing colon cancer. However, researchers agree that more studies are needed in this area.
Garlic contains the antimicrobial allicin, which can help fight off pathogens and bacteria. While all members of the onion family have some form of this antimicrobial, garlic has the highest amount.
More information is needed to determine if there are any possible bacteria-fighting effects of garlic. However, a 2018 study showed that garlic essential oil might help fight Lyme disease bacteria.
Some studies suggest eating garlic helps ward off the common cold. It may also help reduce overall symptoms and shorten your bout with the coughs and runny noses associated with colds.
So, go ahead – add a little extra garlic to your soup or stir-fry. Your heart will thank you for it!