Many of my patients and audience members at lectures have asked me the above-titled question using different verbiages on different occasions. Why ask about garlic, the food we love to spice our meals with so often, despite the attendant aroma?
Recently, a well-known raw-food advocate with perfectly good intentions summarily dismissed garlic as a food of benefit. In fact, he stated that garlic should not be eaten, period. He based his opinion entirely on his personal experience with the "irritation" he has felt when eating raw garlic, causing him various mucous membrane reactions such as burning, itching, and profuse secretions. He also mentioned other people who had similar experiences with garlic, and reached the logical conclusion that garlic is not "designed" to be eaten. Unfortunately, this raw-food educator, who is widely respected for his directness, common-sense, and non-commercial approach, is not familiarized with the philosophy of science and with basic sciences, and therefore may occasionally steer people in the wrong direction using limited empirical or subjective evidence without sufficient prior examination of all the aspects and implications of his advice.
Garlic, a member of the allium family of vegetables (including onions, shallots, leeks, chives, etc.), has been cultivated for 5000 years, and its wild ancestors (from Central Asia, mostly), have been around for millions of years. Its healing powers were recognized for thousands of years. People used to eat the green blades as well as the bulbs, which may have been much milder to the taste buds then today's highly hybridized varieties that are designed to meet culinary expectations and convenience with concentrated flavor. Freshly picked garlic bulbs are a lot milder than aged, cured, or stored garlic cloves. Some varieties, depending on the soil, latitude, and other factors, are mild enough to eat with bites almost as generous as the ones associated with eating a crunchy apple! It's likely that tropical and heirloom varieties are milder than their Northern counterparts, tasting similar to water chestnuts. This would explain some people's revulsion to the stronger cultivated "cooking" varieties- the more you cook the garlic, the less flavorful it gets, and therefore the farmers must select the strongest tasting types for the next growing season, assuring themselves increased sales in comparison with weaker varieties. Are today's powerful garlic cloves too strong for humans to eat in their natural (raw) state?
Perhaps for some sensitive individuals, especially those with allergic reactions to garlic. Such individuals usually know how to avoid their allergens, or they may undergo a blood test for food sensitivities (such as the ALCAT Test, which I highly recommend - a future article on this topic is
pending) and find out about all the foods they should avoid, at least temporarily, in order to allow their immune reactions to subside. But most people are not thus sensitive to garlic any more than they are to other natural foods that are frequently ingested. Obviously, if some garlic is hybridized to have a taste too strong for direct consumption in its raw state, it can be easily diluted to a "normal concentration" and a more comfortable eating experience, as is the case with modern food preparation - using a Vitamix, a processor, a juicer, or a dehydrator in a raw food setting to crush and mix the garlic with healthy oils or foods allows the strongest raw garlic to be eaten with joy (call Ecopolitan for information about these and other kitchen appliances)! Of course, if you find the more ancient or tropical varieties, or if you are fortunate enough to grow your own mild garlic, eating it fresh from the ground may be a pleasurable experience even without dilution!
What are the natural properties of garlic (and other allium plants) that made them so desirable medicinally? Garlic contains unique organo-sulfur compounds within its 0.4% volatile oil: Allylsulfides increase the production of "Phase 2 Detoxification Enzymes," such as Glutathione Transferase, speeding the excretion of many cancer-causing agents, helping with important intra-cellular anti-oxidant activity, and eliminating potent toxins such as mercury and other heavy metals.
The juice of garlic possesses antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral activity. Allicin (the source of raw garlic's pungent odor) has antimicrobial properties as well. Other garlic compounds appear to limit
tumor cell growth. Studies with humans and animals showed that garlic lowers blood pressure, inhibits platelet clumping (reducing blood clotting), reduces inflammation by inhibiting pro-inflammatory messengers, and inhibits pain-causing agents. Some of its sulfur compounds relax the air passages in
the lung, alleviating respiratory challenges. Garlic also lowers cardiovascular risk by lowering undesirable LDL cholesterol as well as fat in the serum of humans and animals. Components of garlic reduce the risk for stomach cancer, prevent dietary nitrites from forming carcinogenic nitrosamines or blocking their actions, and boost the immune system by increasing the number and activities of essential Natural Killer Cells and other phagocytic white blood cell.
Does a healthy person eating wholesome, natural, unprocessed foods in their raw state, and having "the right types and variety" of such foods really need all the aforementioned benefits? Well, this question can apply to all wholesome foods- including broccoli, kale, collards, coconuts, and pineapples. If they are all natural and good to eat, why should garlic be any different (especially when diluted to accommodate the sensitive palate)?
Why should we NOT reap the natural protective capabilities of ALL these foods (with the exceptions of allergens), which in Nature would probably foster continuously vibrant health in humans, as seen with other mammals dwelling in their natural habitat and eating all that it has to offer?
But there is a lot more to our benefit from garlic in today's environment, especially when we increase the use of the sulfur-rich bulbs in comparison with the previously greater use of the more readily available and more edible greens. Today's environment causes immense exposure to herbicides, fungicides, insect sprays, industrial solvents, smoke, heavy metals, free radicals, electromagnetic radiation (see www.emfpollution.com), VOC's, polycyclic aromatic amines, and numerous other toxins, carcinogens, and immune depressors. The stress in our life challenges our nutrient status even with the best of diets, while at the same time our nutrients are robbed by depleted soil, agricultural techniques, lack of biodiversity, and storage time, among many other factors. Recent studies show that even thousands of miles away from any industrial center human tissues are contaminated with significant storage of numerous industrial toxins, including heavy metals.
Additionally, a large percentage of humans have genetic variations that are detected by a Functional Genomic blood test (for more information on these and other tests available everywhere in the US and Canada, contact my assistant Joe at 612-870-2974). These genetic variations, such as N-Acetyl-Transferase and Gltathione-Transferase deficiencies, compromise the person's ability to eliminate heavy metals and other environmental toxins at a rate greater than their entrance into the body, leading to dangerous concentrations that cause many chronic diseases, acid pH, susceptibility to infections, free radical damage, cancer, neurological degeneration, and death. In pristine Nature, humans would not notice such deficiencies since the toxic load would never reach today's levels. But today's society has modern problems and requires newer solutions.
As to those who complain that garlic causes irritation and secretions from their upper digestive tract's mucous membrane, I propose a hypothesis: Most humans today must encourage secretions of oral, esophageal, and stomach juices to enhance proper digestion. Normally, these secretions would have been sufficient in quantity, yet because of our medical and life history, from antibiotics abuse to birth control pills, caffeine use to smoking, and alcohol consumption to dairy products ingestion, stress factors to antacids, we suffer a reduced ability to produce enough mucosal juices. Perhaps ingesting a food like garlic that is causing a profuse reactivity of the mucus membrane, forcing it to produce more digestive juices, might actually help digestion, compensating for this very common digestive deficiency. This can explain why so many cultures enjoy better digestion when they add
garlicky (and otherwise spicy) food to their traditional cuisine, compensating for their un-natural traditional diets. Here again, we have to assess the needs of todays society, not the ideal society we once were in Nature.
When we take into account all the environmental, nutritional, social, genetic, and cultural factors we have discussed above, we begin to comprehend "the big picture" and have a better understanding of humanity's current challenges and special needs. At a time like this we must take in all the extra protection we can possibly obtain from our food, including the use of organically grown raw garlic!