Does Garlic Reduce Your Risk of Cancer?

A Look at Anti-Cancer Alliums


Garlic and onions have been a part of cooking since the days of ancient Greece and Rome. The fragrant garlic plant has been called by many names, including "the bulb of the tree of life" (for its anti-aging properties) and "the stinking rose" (even though it is related to lilies and not roses).

Also, garlic has been credited with the power to enhance your sex life, give endurance to athletes, and ward off vampires. But, more importantly, the health benefits of garlic include its natural antibiotic and antioxidant properties, both of which may help prevent cancer.

Health Benefits

Garlic is a vegetable in the Allium family of bulb-shaped plants. It grows in several sizes and colors and it can be planted alongside other vegetables as a natural pesticide.

You'll know where the garlic is planted long before you see it, as its strong, sulfuric fragrance will declare its location very distinctly. Although dining on garlic-flavored foods may give you "garlic breath," doing so can improve your health by lowering high blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

In fact, one fresh clove of garlic a day may lower your risk of breast, esophageal, stomach, bowel, and prostate cancer. Combine garlic in your diet with cruciferous vegetables, fruits, dietary fiber, and regular exercise, and your risk for breast cancer could drop even lower.

Anti-Cancer Compounds

Garlic has natural antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and antiviral. The knobs and cloves of garlic contain high levels of sulfur, flavonoids, and selenium. And, when it is crushed, chopped, or bruised, garlic produces the compound allicin.

It is garlic's antibacterial properties that may help to prevent cancer as well as its ability to enhance genetic repair, slow down cell proliferation, and prevent the formation of carcinogenic substances in the body.

Here are the three cancer-fighting compounds to know:

  • Allicin: A powerful plant compound that is antibiotic and anti-fungal. This substance is strong enough to cause blisters if you get too much on your skin, but allicin fades quickly after it is produced. Cooking speeds the breakdown of allicin, and microwave cooking appears to kill it and destroy the health benefits.
  • Flavonoids: Aromatic plant compounds that are considered to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds fight cancer by preventing cell damage.
  • Selenium and allyl sulfides: Both of these plant chemicals may be anti-mutagens, or substances that prevent cancer by blocking damage to cells' DNA or stimulating the body to repair damaged DNA.

How to Use and Buy Garlic for Health

You can use garlic in several ways to boost your health, but the greatest benefit will come from fresh, uncooked garlic. If you prefer to try other forms of garlic, there's garlic essential oil, garlic oil macerate, garlic powder, and garlic extract.

Garlic supplements are also available if you want to avoid "garlic breath." However, be warned that the allicin contained in these supplements varies greatly and will be less powerful than that which is released from a fresh garlic clove.

When buying fresh garlic, consider the following:

Good Garlic Bad Garlic
Solid, firm heads Hollow or soft heads
Even color of outer skins Mottled outer skins (mold)
Head has weight Head is lightweight
Cloves are plump Cloves are shriveled
No green sprouts or leaves Green sprouts or leaves

A Word From Verywell

You don't have to chew on one clove of garlic a day by itself to get the anticancer benefits from this fragrant bulb. Just chop or finely dice garlic and sprinkle it on a salad, a thick slice of bread, over a fish fillet, or on your cooked vegetables. And if you notice that vampires avoid you, your daily jog gets easier and your sex life improves, well, that's good too.

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