Garlic is a common cooking ingredient with numerous health benefits. Examples include managing cholesterol, boosting heart health, supporting the immune system, protecting against the common cold, and more.

Garlic belongs to the genus Allium and has close ties with the onion, rakkyo, which is an onion from Asia, scallion, chive, leek, and shallot. Humans have used it for thousands of years, and it has been popular in ancient Egypt for both culinary purposes and its health and therapeutic benefits.

Read on to learn more about the possible health benefits of garlic. This article also explores ways to incorporate garlic into the diet, the history of garlic, and more.

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Adding garlic to the diet can offer numerous possible benefits for a person’s health.

Protecting against the common cold

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is not enough research to suggest whether garlic can help the common cold.

A 2016 study found that taking aged garlic extract (AGE) for 90 days during the cold and flu season did not reduce the number of participants getting sick. However, it helped reduce the severity of symptoms and the number of work or school days participants missed.

Learn more about garlic for colds.

Antibiotic properties

Garlic contains allicin, which acts as an antibiotic. Garlic releases allicin when a person chops or crushes it.

According to a 2018 article, garlic may be effective against antibiotic-resistant organisms. Consuming garlic may help protect against these organisms and help manage bacterial infections.

It is best to contact a doctor for advice if a person suspects they have a bacterial infection, as a doctor may recommend an appropriate antibiotic. A person can also ask about the potential benefits of garlic in supporting recovery from the infection.

Learn more about natural antibiotics.

Cholesterol and heart health

Garlic can help lower total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, according to a 2018 study. This can help manage cholesterol, which in turn can help boost heart health.

According to the British Heart Foundation, garlic extracts and garlic powder may help lower blood pressure. This in turn can also benefit heart health. A 2016 meta-analysis of 20 studies also found that garlic decreased blood pressure, with a larger decrease among participants with preexisting high blood pressure.

However, more research into the benefits of garlic cloves for heart health is necessary.

Learn more about garlic and cholesterol.

Ethanol-induced liver injury

According to a 2018 article, garlic has hepatoprotective properties. This means that it can help protect the liver from damage.

In particular, garlic may be beneficial in protecting against ethanol-induced liver injury. Ethanol is a compound within alcoholic drinks.

Garlic may help reduce the risk of alcoholic liver disease, though more research is necessary. However, the best way to prevent the condition from developing is to limit or avoid alcohol intake.

Weight management

Garlic may help with weight management, including:

  • losing weight
  • losing fat mass
  • decreasing waist circumference, a measure of abdominal fat

A 2023 study found that women with polycystic ovary syndrome taking garlic supplements saw reductions in:

  • weight
  • their body mass index
  • waist circumference

A 2018 study also found that taking raw crushed garlic twice daily for 4 weeks decreased waist circumference in people with metabolic syndrome.

One clove of garlic (3 grams) contains around 4.47 calories. This means that it can also provide a low calorie option for flavoring dishes.

Preventing memory problems

Some research suggests that AGE can help protect against cognitive and memory deficits. This may be because the antioxidants in garlic help prevent oxidative damage.

This may mean that it can slow down the development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, as there are numerous causes of Alzheimer’s disease, it may not be possible to prevent the condition entirely.

More studies into the benefits of garlic for protecting against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia are necessary.

Improving bone health

Consuming garlic may be beneficial for bone health. This is because it can help reduce oxidative stress.

A small 2017 study noted that raw garlic and garlic tablets could improve calcium absorption. This can be useful in treating conditions such as osteoporosis.

A person’s doctor can advise on dietary changes and other treatments that may help manage or reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Learn more about foods to eat and avoid with osteoporosis.

Anticarcinogenic properties

Garlic contains numerous compounds that may have anticarcinogenic properties, which help protect against cancer. These compounds include:

  • allicin
  • diallyl disulfide
  • diallyl sulfide
  • diallyl trisulfide
  • S-allyl mercapto cysteine
  • S-allylcysteine

These may help protect against cancer in a number of ways. They include cell cycle arrest, which is when the cancer cell stops duplicating and dividing, and apoptosis, which refers to the death of cancer cells.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, consuming a diet rich in vegetables in the garlic family may lower a person’s risk of certain cancers, such as gastrointestinal cancers. Examples of vegetables in the garlic family include:

While garlic alone will not protect against cancer, consuming garlic as part of a balanced diet may help reduce a person’s risk. A person can also contact their doctor for advice on more ways to reduce their risk of different types of cancer.

Learn more about cancer-fighting foods.

There are different ways someone can add garlic to their diet. These include adding fresh garlic as an ingredient to recipes or using garlic powder or garlic oil to flavor or season dishes.

A person may also consider taking garlic supplements. It is best to contact a doctor for advice, as these supplements can increase the risk of bleeding. Garlic can also cause an allergy in some people.

Learn more about garlic allergies.

People have used garlic all over the world for thousands of years. Records indicate that garlic was in use around 5,000 years ago in Egyptian and Indian cultures in the Old World.

There are suggestions that Babylonians used garlic around 4,500 years ago, while the Chinese used it anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 years ago.

Today, garlic grows wild in Central Asia.

People have traditionally used garlic for medicinal purposes. Over time, research into the health benefits of garlic has focused on how it can affect cholesterol and blood pressure. Some studies have also looked at the benefits of garlic in reducing a person’s risk of cancer.

While more studies are necessary to further understand how garlic can help treat specific conditions, consuming garlic and taking garlic supplements may support a person’s overall health.

Here are answers to common questions about garlic.

What is the healthiest way to eat garlic?

A person may receive the most benefits from eating raw garlic. However, cooked garlic can also offer a wide range of possible health benefits, and some individuals may find this easier to eat than raw garlic.

Who should not take garlic?

Common side effects of garlic include heartburn and an upset stomach. This means that people may wish to avoid consuming garlic — particularly raw garlic — if they have a condition such as acid reflux.

Large amounts of raw garlic and garlic supplements can also increase a person’s risk of bleeding. People who take blood-thinning medications such as warfarin may need to avoid consuming a lot of garlic.

Learn more about garlic and acid reflux.

Garlic is a popular cooking ingredient that may offer a range of health benefits. These can include reducing the severity of common cold symptoms, helping manage cholesterol and blood pressure, boosting heart health, and reducing the risk of liver injury.

Garlic may also offer antibiotic and anticarcinogenic properties, support bone health, reduce the likelihood of memory problems, and aid in weight management.

A person can contact their doctor for advice about whether garlic may benefit their overall health or a particular condition. The doctor can also advise on ways to incorporate garlic into the diet and whether they recommend garlic supplements.