I am often asked questions about what a person can take at home to alleviate specific ailments. This is a great question, and one that I love to answer. Kitchen medicine is one of my favorite topics, and those who have seen me regularly may know that I often tell you to take herbs that you can buy at the grocery store. Why would you buy expensive pills (even herbal supplements) when you can get the same or better remedies at home. This is the first of many to come that will highlight some of my favorite kitchen medicines.
We all (well, most of us) enjoy eating and cooking with garlic, or alum, on a regular basis. (I personally feel you can never have too much garlic in a meal) Did you know that garlic can be used to fight infections, among other things?
One of the active ingredient of garlic is Allicin. To get allicin you must take fresh garlic and SMASH IT, CHOP IT, MINCE IT, PUREE IT, whatever to break it apart. This creates an enzymatic reaction between the precursor Alliin and the enzyme Alliinase. It is this compound that gives garlic is sharp smell and taste, and what leaves you smell, well garlicky when you eat large amounts.
Allicin is VERY FRAGILE and will break down with processing and heat, so cooked and dried garlic have very low potency.
World's Oldest Antibiotic
Thats right, antibiotic. For thousands of years, several different cultures, from the Chinese to the Romans, knew that garlic was a powerful anti-microbial, killing viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. In this way it can be used topically for wounds, ringworm, and athlete's foot. As a rinse to treat mouth sores, gingivitis, and chronic tooth decay. And internally to treat and prevent roundworm, ulcers, urinary tract infection, and vaginitis. The great thing about using garlic as an antibiotic, is that it does not kill off the good bacteria in the body. I have seen garlic and probiotic supplements (in the refrigerated section of health stores, or pharmacies) that I just love. (remember that they NEED to be refrigerated or they rapidly lose allicin.
Got a cold? Mayo clinic is currently doing a study to determine garlics effectiveness on combatting the common cold. As of now, the results are very promising, showing that those consuming raw garlic during cold and flu season had fewer, and less severe symptoms.
Promotes Cholesterol Balance
Garlic was once hailed as this amazing heart health miracle. While it does have great heart health benefits, It was a little hyped up (as have many other great food medicines, like Acai). Don't get me wrong, I love garlic and it is wonderful for you heart, but I dislike when huge health claims are applied to a single product. It often come out that this product wasn't quite as great as we made it out to be, when to product talk about is still a very important, good for you medicine.
What garlic does is block the excessive production of LDL cholesterol by the Liver. What this means is that if there IS an excessive production of LDL, garlic can balance it out. But, it should be noted that garlic intake alone will cure the cause of the excessive LDL production. For those of you who are not 100% on the understanding of the Liver and LDL/HDL and what they do exactly....here is a crash course....deep breath....and....go...When the inner lining of the blood vessels is damaged by some toxic, foreign substance, such as free radicals or chemicals, this lining sends an SOS to the Liver. The Liver then sends in the paramedics (LDL Cholesterol) to mend to damage, so YES while they are working to repair the damage done they accumulate in that location which can lead to a blockage in the blood vessel. When the injury is healed, they return home to the Liver as HDL Cholesterol. So, really there is no good or bad cholesterol, just an imbalance in the levels due to an underlying cause. This is why garlic will not against nature and lower LDL level when they are not out of balance.
Garlic can also benefit LDL cholesterol when the presence of free radicals oxidizes the LDL cholesterol. This causes the LDL cholesterol to act out of their natural and attack the lining of the blood vessel causing instead of healing damage. Garlic contains several antioxidants which help to prevent and stop cholesterol oxidation.
You may be asking yourself right now, "These free radical things sound horrible, but what exactly are they?" A Free radical is a molecule that has lost an electron. How do they lose these electrons you ask. Rarely do normal molecules split in this way leaving a loose electron, when it is weakened this may happen. Free radicals are very unstable and are on the look out for other stable molecules that they can steal an electron from. This new hijacked molecule now becomes a free radical. The body makes SOME free radicals naturally as an immune response to kill bacteria and viruses. HOWEVER, when environmental factors such as pollution, pesticides, fertilizers, cigarette smoke, and other chemicals enter the body they can cause an excess of free radicals in the body. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by giving up an electron to the rouge molecule.
Reducing Blood Pressure
Garlic lowers blood pressure by dilating blood vessels, especially those of capillaries (the smallest blood vessels) The dilation of the blood vessels lets the blood flow more smoothly. Garlic also reduces the rate at which platelets stick together. The combination of these two functions allows for easier pumping of the heart, lower blood pressure, and in turn less stress on the heart.
Dosage and Use
To achieve the medicinal properties of garlic, it must be used fresh. Cooking and processing loses potency. If you are buying a garlic supplement the bottle should read 6,000 mcg of Allicin potential. Note that these do not contain actual allicin, but the precursor that must be processed and broken down in the body. Allicin is very fragile and is not shelf stable. This is why I prefer to get it from fresh garlic!
For topical applications crush one clove of garlic and mix with 1/3 cup of water. Use this within 3 hours, or its potency will begin to diminish (the allicin is super unstable remember). You can up this on a bandage and put directly on a cut to prevent infection, or increase dosage to make a foot soak for athletes foot. You can also put drops into the ear to help fight ear infections, or gargle to prevent and treat gingivitis.
Contraindications and Precautions
YES, even garlic has some contraindications. I have heard people say that kitchen medicine doesn't have side effects, or contraindications (I've even heard people say this about herbs in general, man are they misled). Even things they we consume as food can have precautions.