Benefits of Raw Garlic on Cardiovascular Health
If you're looking for a natural way to prevent cardiovascular disease and to promote overall cardiovascular health, eating garlic — especially raw garlic — may be just what you're looking for. A number of epidemiological studies as well as clinical trials have suggested that garlic may offer cardiovascular benefits and provide protection against cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, refers to any disease that affects the cardiovascular system.
Several parameters — such as high serum total cholesterol, raised LDL cholesterol (the so-called "bad cholesterol"), hypertension (high blood pressure), and increased platelet activation/aggregation — have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and garlic has been shown to reduce these factors.
The most consistent positive results have been obtained in studies that investigated the ability of garlic to reduce platelet aggregation. Also clinical trials that show garlic to be effective at lowering blood cholesterol are abundant. Less consistent results have been obtained in studies that focus on the potential of garlic to reduce blood pressure and oxidative stress in people with cardiovascular disease.
Crushed Garlic Offers Superior Cardioprotective Benefits
An interesting garlic study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2009 investigated the ability of processed versus crushed garlic to help laboratory rats' hearts recover from simulated heart attacks. The study found that both processed and crushed, raw garlic had cardioprotective effects, but the rats that received crushed garlic were much better at restoring good blood flow in the aorta, compared to the rats that received processed garlic. Furthermore, the rats that were administered crushed, raw garlic were found to have increased pressure in the left ventricle of the heart.
But how does crushed garlic exert its superior cardioprotective effects? The scientists responsible for this garlic study attributed the extraordinary heart health protecting properties of garlic to a compound called hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide, which is formed when raw garlic is cut or crushed, acts as an antioxidant and transmits chemical messages that relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. When garlic is processed or cooked, it loses its ability to generate hydrogen sulfide.
When Not to Use Garlic
Garlic is considered safe for most healthy people who want to eat it as a preventive measure to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, before adding garlic to your cardioprotective diet, you should know that large amounts of garlic (especially raw garlic) can cause side effects such as heartburn (especially in pregnant women), sweating, garlicky body odor, lightheadedness, headaches, and a stinging sensation on the skin after handling raw garlic.
Furthermore, if you are allergic to garlic or any of its constituents, you may experience adverse reactions like itching of the mouth, skin lesions, contact dermatitis, gastrointestinal problems (such as abdominal pain, nausea, or diarrhea), or respiratory symptoms (such as a runny nose, sneezing, or wheezing). Fortunately, allergic reactions to garlic are relatively rare.
In addition to people who are allergic to garlic, people who have a history of cardiovascular disease and/or who are taking anti-coagulant drugs, antiplatelet drugs or other medication, should consult with a doctor before using garlic because of the blood-thinning properties of raw and cooked garlic. Also those who have a bleeding disorder should avoid garlic or at least consult with a doctor before using it. Due to its ability to slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding, garlic should also be avoided before a surgery.
1. Rahman K, Lowe GM (2006). Garlic and cardiovascular disease: a critical review. Journal of Nutrition, 136(3 Suppl), 736S-740S
2. Subhendu Mukherjee, Istvan Lekli, Shyamal Goswami, and Dipak K Das (2009). Freshly Crushed Garlic is a Superior Cardioprotective Agent than Processed Garlic. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 57(15), 7137-44