Garlic or allium sativum, is one of the most widely used ingredients around the world. It gives foods the spice and its delicious smell. Even before, when commercial medicines were not yet available, garlic was one of the herbal medicines used for the treatment of diseases. Garlic is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud. Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscorides all mention the use of garlic for many conditions, including parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion, and low energy. Its use in China was first mentioned in A.D. 510. Louis Pasteur studied the antibacterial action of garlic in 1858.

Several studies were conducted on standardized powdered garlic; researchers believe that garlic can have not only a preventative but also a curative role in heart disease. Previous studies demonstrate that powdered garlic reduces total and harmful LDL cholesterol levels, serum triglycerides, and blood pressure, and garlic also inhibits cholesterol oxidation and platelet aggregation (the tendency of the blood platelets to clump), among other positive effects. Garlic may lower high blood pressure by 5 to 10%.

Studies of garlic were also conducted in China and America regarding the role in garlic in the prevention of cancers. The studies noted a decrease incidence of gastric and colonic carcinomas in people taking garlic 900 mg per day. For cancers anywhere in the colon, the modest consumption of one or more servings of garlic (fresh or powdered) per week resulted in a 35% lower risk, while a 50% lower risk was found for cancer of the distal colon. Although this study of 127 foods did not include onions, several other epidemiological studies have shown that onions and other Allium species including garlic are usually associated with decreased gastrointestinal cancer risk. Garlic helps to prevent the oxidation of blood fats, another major contributor to the development of arteriosclerosis and other forms of heart disease. Thus garlic is an antioxidant also.

Garlic is sometimes used for athlete's Foot, ear infections, HIV support, vaginitis and yeast infection, with less supportive data. Garlic is considered a topical antibiotic, but it is unclear if garlic possesses any antibiotic activity when taken internally.

Garlic is composed of many biochemical substances which are useful in the human body. The most known and biologically active of all these substances is Allicin or the Diallyl thiosulfate. It is responsible for the antibacterial and antithrombotic effects of garlic. It is formed by cutting of crushing garlic. Injury to the garlic bulb activates the enzyme allinase which metabolizes alliin to allicin. The sulfur compound allicin, produced by crushing or chewing fresh garlic or by taking powdered garlic products with allicin potential, in turn produces other sulfur compounds: ajoene, allyl sulfides, and vinyldithiins. Aged garlic products lack allicin, but may have activity due to the presence of S-allylcysteine. Allicin is metabolized into two useful substances which are the Vinyldithiin and Ajoene. These substances give beneficial effects to the human body.

Vinyldithiin has antimicrobial, antifungal and antihelminthic properties. It has also a cardio protective property. The other substance which is Ajoene which is a derivative of allicin, has also antithombotic as well as thrombolytic effects. It also has an anticholesterol effect and is useful in treating hypercholesterolemia.

There are a few contraindications for taking garlic. Garlic has no known drug interactions. However patients with bleeding disorders or who are taking anti-coagulants (warfarin, coumadin, pentoxifylline) or even aspirin should consult with a doctor before using a garlic supplement. If you are scheduled to have surgery, it is a good idea to discontinue garlic supplementation two weeks before hand. At a minimum, tell your surgeon what herbs you are taking. Garlic and Ginkgo biloba together may predispose to bleeding in susceptible individuals. Garlic intolerance may result in heartburn or flatulence.

Garlic has been listed as one of the eight herbal medicines to be stopped at least seven days prior to the operation. Its property of inhibiting platelet aggregation poses a potential risk of bleeding when taken together with drugs that also inhibits platelet aggregation.

There are many ways of taking in garlic. It can be taken directly per Orem. It can be powdered and added as a mixture to the food we eat. In some parts of the world, garlic is added for flavor to a beverage either hot or cold.

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