Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article

Garlic (Allium sativa) has become one of the most trusted sources of herbal healing for well over a century. Deep within the tissues of the starchy bulb is an enzyme that turns into the well known compound, allicin, when crushed or sliced. Allicin is just one of several organosulfur compounds that have medicinal properties in garlic bulbs.

These garlic family-based compounds are divided into 2 classes: L-cysteine sulfoxides and γ-glutamyl-L-cysteine peptides. The stable peptide γ-glutamyl-L-cysteine is converted into the antioxidant glutathione when processed through the digestive system. The unstable L-cysteine sulfoxides are responsible for producing sulfur-based compounds such as allicin.

Antimicrobial Allicin

Allicin is responsible for the distinctive garlic odor that has given this plant the affectionate label “sticky rose”. Allicin reacts with thiol proteins which are common in many viruses, fungi and bacteria. Thiol proteins are the gateway to triggering a stress reaction in microorganisms that are destructive to human health. When allicin starts the stress cycle in these pathogens, it weakens the virus, bacteria or fungus which allows the body’s natural immune system to finish the attack. This, along with it’s antioxidant status, is what earns it the broad-spectrum term “antimicrobial medicine”.

Anti-inflammatory Allicin

Garlic’s famous compounds are noted for reducing blood pressure. It is confirmed to reduce serum cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL, but not serum HDL. Allicin accomplishes this feat by reducing inflammation in the tissues of the blood vessels by lowering lipids. It works similarly to prostaglandins which have a hormone-like effect on blood and tissue. The anti-inflammatory effect is reduced but not eliminated by heating garlic thus converting the allicin into another compound.

Contraindications for Garlic

Garlic can trigger stomach upset in some people. Coated garlic tablets are often acceptable for people who are sensitive to garlic. All herbal medication that reduces blood pressure, including garlic is contraindicated for people with bleeding disorders. Stop taking garlic at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Further Research

Linus Pauling Institute – Garlic

NCBI – The Immunomodulation and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Garlic Organosulfur Compounds in Cancer Chemoprevention

NIH – Garlic

International Journal of Food Properties – Allicin and Other Functional Active Components in Garlic: Health Benefits and Bioavailability