What's garlic?

One of the most common household herb which has recently been highlighted as a cure for everything underneath the sun is garlic. Also known as allium sativum, garlic has been used as a flavoring agent in cooking for centuries. Garlic has been widely used in the Orient for centuries before its introduction to North America. With many anecdotal reports from the oriental community about garlic, vendors in American were quick to seize the opportunity to market the herb. Today garlic in every type of formulation is available in health food stores. A lot of clinical studies have looked at the effects of garlic on various medical disorders. A few short term studies have shown that garlic does cause a moderate decrease in blood pressure, inhibits platelets so that blood remains thin, and lowers cholesterol levels. However there are no long term studies on garlic to determine if these benefits are sustained.

So why should the consumer use garlic for?

For the moment, there is some decent information that garlic can help lower blood cholesterol over a period of 4-12 weeks. It is not clear if these effects are maintained in the long run. Data from the Orient indicate that Indian men who consumed garlic for decades still develop high cholesterol levels and have severe coronary artery disease.

Another use of garlic has been in the treatment of skin fungal infections. Garlic when applied to skin acts like a caustic agent and causes a severe rash and burn in some individuals. It effectiveness on skin fungus remains dubious. There is evidence that garlic can cause blood to become thin and thus prior to any dental or surgical procedure, garlic must be stopped at least 5-7 days before the procedure. Some experts claim that the blood thinning results in a lower incidence of atherosclerosis.

There are other medical disorders which garlic is hyped up to cure but so far there is little clinical evidence to back up these claims. There is no evidence that garlic can repel ticks or mosquitoes, cure upper respiratory tract infections, diabetes, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure or athletes foot. The effective dose of garlic to lower cholesterol levels is about 4 mg orally. However there is a difference in quality between the steam distilled garlic oils, oils from crushed garlic and aged garlic in alcohol.

While the safety of garlic has not been proven in children under the age of 18, the herb is very safe as can be witnessed by the consumption of garlic by millions of children in Asia.

Some individuals do develop an allergy to garlic which can present with a skin rash, difficulty breathing or itching.

The most common side effects of garlic are bad breath and body odors. Fresh garlic can also cause skin rashes and severe itching. The nost serious complication of garlic is bleeding even with minor trauma. Great caution is urged when people who have bleeding disorders take garlic. There are minor reports of garlic powder causing excess gas and belching. In the last few years, a few garlic formulas from the Orient have been found to be contaminated with botulism and even colchicne.

Garlic is safe for use in pregnancy and breast feeding women.

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