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Hard to believe that the lily family of plants managed to produce the garlic bulb, but it did. Aside from flavoring and spice, the plant is also used for medicinal purposes. Although it contains the obvious sulphur-based compounds, it also has beneficial vitamins, minerals, enzymes, flavenoids, and other ingredients. The compound alliin is thought to be the therapeutic agent in garlic, and is a derivative of the sulphur-containing amino acid cysteine. Another beneficial chemical is allicin, which is a substance with antibiotic properties and forms when alliin and the enzyme allinase are combined during chopping or crushing of garlic.

Medicinal Claims

Aside from the claim that garlic is one of the strongest antibiotics and does not cause genetic mutation in microbes, it is also purported to have anticoagulant properties that inhibit clotting in blood vessels. Some claim garlic is also an antihistamine, expectorant, stimulant, diuretic, antispasmotic, and antioxidant. It may also have antiviral and antifungal properties as well, and is sometimes used to treat blood sugar abnormalities, menstrual cramps, skin conditions, arthritis, pain in muscles and nerves, and many more human ailments.

Human studies have shown garlic to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol and LDLs (low-density lipoproteins, or bad cholesterol), although it’s not clear how long the benefits last and if HDLs (high-density lipoproteins) are affected. However, ome families that have genetic cholesterol disorders do not benefit from garlic supplements. Garlic has proven itself to be somewhat of a blood thinner, as claimed, but more studies need to be done before it can be considered a therapeutic tool. Until then, some physicians advise to discontinue use of garlic before surgery and other procedures due to the possible risk of bleeding.

Some claim that garlic helps control blood sugar and is therefore a benefit to those with diabetes, but further study needs to be done in order to claim efficacy and safety—if used, it could interfere with medications or accurate blood testing. Still other proponents of garlic as a cure-all say that it has a positive effect on ulcers, but there is no scientific evidence to support that claim—in fact, garlic can irritate the stomach and intestinal lining and should be used with extreme caution.

Warnings and Interactions

Because there is some possibility that garlic can act as an anticoagulant, there are many possible drug interactions with blood thinning agents (although this is still being researched). Also, since it may affect blood sugar levels, insulin-dependent diabetics must check with a physician first before using garlic supplements.

Caution with garlic should also be used for patients on blood pressure medication, cholesterol drugs, antivirals (including HIV preparations), and many other medicines and preparations. If you have a health condition or are on medications of any kind, talk with a physician about using garlic supplements beforehand.

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