Health benefits of garlic.
"Garlic is a potent antibacterial and antiviral, as well as an anti-inflammatory," says Kristine Gedroic, M.D., author of A Nation of Unwell and integrative medicine doctor. "Chronic inflammation can be a trigger for chronic disease—and takes its toll on the body over time. As garlic can help reduce inflammation, it works alongside the immune system to keep us healthy," she explains.
All in all, garlic is a healthy, natural ingredient that can certainly manage and possibly prevent—but not necessarily treat—cold and flu symptoms.
Garlic and your immune system.
"Garlic has many compounds that are active in modulating the immune system," integrative immunologist Heather Moday, M.D., tells mbg. Most of these properties, like antioxidants, help manage inflammation by fighting free radicals. In this sense, the antioxidants in garlic are protective against cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome, Moday says.
The other compounds help activate immune cells, including macrophages, lymphocytes, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells. "The job of these immune cells is to kill foreign invaders in the body, such as viruses and bacteria," Gedroic explains.
Can garlic prevent you from getting sick?
Many studies say garlic ostensibly shortens the duration of colds and flus and may even prevent them. In an Advances in Therapy study, 146 healthy adults took either a placebo pill or a garlic supplement for three months. The group taking the garlic supplement was 63% less likely to develop a cold. Among those who did develop a cold, the duration of illness was about 70% shorter than those in the placebo group.
So how does this happen? According to Gedroic, "Given that colds are typically triggered by the rhinovirus and flu, helping to stimulate the immune system can boost the effectiveness of these killer cells in the body." Ultimately, she says this helps wipe out viruses before they make their way into the system.
The best ways to use garlic for maximum benefits.
As mentioned before, garlic tastes good in just about anything, but different preparation methods may make it more effective for immune support.
"Aged garlic seems to have the best effects for heart health and lowering blood sugar," Moday says, "but raw garlic is better for antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects."
That said, raw garlic can be super pungent and kind of hard to stomach (think biting into raw onion). To reap the benefits without the intense flavor, she recommends adding raw garlic to soups or pesto. Oddly enough, chopping garlic is another good way to get more benefits from it.
"When garlic is crushed or chopped, an enzyme called alliinase is released and produces allicin," Gedroic says. The enzymatic process requires about 15 minutes to take effect, though. "Bottom line: Don't eat or cook with garlic right away," she says. "You want to let it sit for a while before you do."
Cooking with garlic is perfectly fine (in fact, encouraged) for optimal flavor. But in terms of health benefits, Gedroic says heat can reduce the effectiveness.
Other home remedies for colds.
If you're not a fan of garlic, well, I'm impressed you read this far. But, don't worry—there are plenty of natural remedies to help treat a cold, including one of these options:
The bottom line.
As the cold and flu season approaches, finding ways to protect and strengthen your immune system is even more vital. Increasing garlic consumption may be a natural (and delicious) way to do just that. The antiviral, antioxidant properties have been shown to stave off cold and flu symptoms, as well as chronic inflammation—all those perks in one, affordable bulb.
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Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.