Garlic is the trailblazer member of the onion family in the health department. With its favorable action against cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and what not, garlic leads the way in fighting numerous ailments.
While people who have experienced the manifold health benefits of this tiny bulb will vouch for its effectiveness, many of these claims are still being studied – although results are favorable.
For example, in a 12-week study conducted during the flu season of November to February, those in the “garlic group” had fewer incidences of colds, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center . And even when they came down with the bug, they had less severe symptoms.
Those who scoff at treating colds and quote the long-standing belief that colds will subside in “seven days without medication, and one week without,” have something to think about now. In the experimental studies, taking garlic reduced the duration of the illness by a day or more. That may not seem very significant, but just imagine what difference it can make for the economy, since the CDC estimates there are 425 million colds a year in the US. Faster recovery from colds, even by one day, means lesser spread of the infection, fewer loss of work days, and reduced medical cost.
Garlic  is known to have anti-viral and anti-allergic properties. Garlic may work by boosting the immune system, too.
The bioactive organosulfur compound Allicin is given the most credit for garlic’s antiviral property. A large percentage of colds are caused by rhinovirus and coronavirus infections, the former responsible for incidences in spring and fall, while the latter is more active in winter.
Destroys Viruses And Boosts Immunity
Allicin and its derivatives such as ajoenes, vinyldithiins and allyl sulfides in the garlic may ensure the destruction of the viruses not only by disrupting their metabolic functions, but by activating the immune cells against them. Diallyl trisulfide is known to activate the T-cells, which are the natural killer cells of the immune system, as well as the B-cells which produce antibodies against these invaders.
Garlic is an excellent immune booster. The exact mechanism behind this is not clear, but it could be due to the combined action of the several active compounds in this bulb.
How should you take garlic to ward off colds and flu?
Garlic supplements are available in various forms, including dried garlic, garlic oil and extracts in capsules, aged garlic extracts, and fermented black garlic. But fresh garlic can be easily sourced any time of the year.
As in the case of most vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients, what is taken through foods in their natural form is infinitely better than processed or synthesized forms.
Many garlic products are deficient in even the active ingredients mentioned on their labels, and some contain high amounts of toxic chemicals such as arsenic and lead. While some standardized garlic products may be beneficial for your health, freshly crushed garlic is your best bet for protecting you from colds and flu.
Garlic’s Smell … A Good Thing?
Allicin, as mentioned earlier, is what you need most for warding off seasonal illnesses. It is a highly unstable compound — so much so that freshly pound garlic kept aside for more an hour loses its potency. At the same time, crushed garlic is better at making this compound available to the body because whole cloves can pass through our digestive tract without getting digested.
Pounding the garlic or crushing it may cause its smell to be transferred to your hands and mouth, of course, but garlic supplements that offer therapeutic benefits without the stink may not actually work against a cold. The reason: The active ingredient, allicin, is the same ingredient that gives garlic its peculiar smell. So, if the garlicky smell is absent, you should stay away from such supplements, at least when you are counting on garlic to protect you from seasonal colds and flu.
Take one or two lightly crushed cloves along with your meals twice a day. Minced garlic tastes great in salads, pesto, hummus and cheese spreads. Many people find crushed garlic with olive oil a great combination to have with bread. Young children may find it easy to have finely chopped garlic mixed with honey.
Skeptics say that if you can’t keep away colds with garlic, at the very least you can keep people away with your terrible garlic breath. Truth to be told, the fewer the people you come in close contact with during the flu season, the lesser your chances are of catching it. What better “flu bug repellant” can you think of?
The garlicky smell is a problem indeed, but it can be ameliorated to some extent by taking garlic along with milk. Chewing parsley may mask the garlic breath temporarily, but the smell is often expressed in the urine and even in the sweat. However, most people who have experienced the healing powers of garlic feel it’s a small price to pay for the benefits this pungent bulb offers.
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