Eating Garlic Could Boost Memory By Changing Your Gut, Finds New Research

Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor By Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition.

Image by Yaroslav Danylchenko / Stocksy

Garlic is one of those OG superfoods with so many benefits, it's almost hard to keep track. This nutritional powerhouse is known for its antifungal and antimicrobial properties and contains beneficial organosulfur compounds shown to reduce inflammation, offer antioxidant benefits, and strengthen the immune system. Research has even found a reduced risk of lung cancer among people who eat raw garlic twice a week.

Now, there's yet another reason to embrace your garlic breath: This pungent herb might actually boost your memory—by way of your gut!

A new study presented at the 2019 Experimental Biology meeting suggests that eating garlic regularly may help counteract age-related changes in the gut (most notably, diminished microbial diversity) that are associated with memory problems like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. For the study, researchers gave older mice an oral supplement containing allyl sulfide—an allicin-derived organosulfur compound found in garlic. Compared to mice that didn't receive the compound, these mice showed better long- and short-term memory and healthier gut bacteria.

"Our findings suggest that dietary administration of garlic containing allyl sulfide could help maintain healthy gut microorganisms and improve cognitive health in the elderly," said lead researcher Jyotirmaya Behera, Ph.D., in a news release.

But how exactly does garlic have this effect? Garlic has long been known to function as a prebiotic (meaning, it feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, allowing it to thrive). And research is increasingly demonstrating that a healthy, diverse gut microbiome has a positive impact on mental health while an unhealthy gut has the opposite effect. In fact, another recent study found that patients with depression had lower levels of two important types of gut bacteria.

"The resident microbes within the body regulate inflammation, immunity, production of various vitamins, detoxification, carbohydrate metabolism, and even the production of important neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine," neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D., recently told mbg. "These are fundamental processes for general health, and for the brain in particular."

For this new study, researchers also found that mice receiving the garlic compound had reduced intestinal inflammation and higher levels of neuronal-derived natriuretic factor (NDNF) gene expression—a gene required for long- and short-term memory.

How to maximize garlic's health benefits.

Bottom line: There's really no reason not to eat garlic. But to get the biggest nutritional benefit from this herb, most experts recommend eating garlic raw, as heat can destroy its beneficial compounds. Even better, crush or chop garlic and allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes before consuming it—this is necessary to trigger the formation of allicin, which then breaks down into a variety of beneficial organosulfur compounds (including allyl sulfide). Get your dose of raw garlic in this avocado and lemon salad dressing, or whip up some pickled fermented garlic (fun fact: The fermentation process increases allicin levels even more).

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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