Garlic has a truly astonishing number of health benefits. Green Med Info has assembled studies that list more than 150 beneficial effects that garlic can have on your health.
The studies show that garlic:
- Inhibits cholesterol accumulation
- Reduces risk for heart attack and stroke
- May be effective against drug-resistant bacteria
- Lessens cadmium-induced liver damage
- May have protective effects against cancer
According to one of the studies linked on the site, garlic may also help fight multi-drug resistant tuberculosis:
"Alternate medicine practices with plant extracts including garlic should be considered to decrease the burden of drug resistance and cost in the management of diseases. The use of garlic against MDR-TB [multi-drug resistant tuberculosis] may be of great importance regarding public health."
Saffron is another spice making headlines, as there is increasing evidence to suggest that it may be an effective means of managing Alzheimer's disease. A study found that saffron had an effect similar to the drug donepezil in the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's after 22 weeks -- and had fewer side effects.
Another study found that dietary supplementation with vitamin E and folic acid, as well as ALA, DHA, and GPC, could aid in decreasing oxidative stress in mouse brains.
According to FYI Living:
"... [T]his reveals that such dietary supplementation also helps improve cognitive performance in the normal mice. This study is a significant step towards development of newer preventive nutritional therapies in the elderly who are susceptible to cognitive decline and related diseases such as Alzheimer's. It also enables an understanding of the involvement of oxidative stress and other molecular mechanisms that lead to age-related loss of cognitive abilities."
If you want a simple way to increase the disease-fighting power of your meals, be generous with your use of high-quality herbs and spices. There is no shortage of research showing that these foods are among the healthiest you can consume, and the best part is they taste wonderful and are relatively inexpensive, so they're a "secret weapon" that just about everyone can take advantage of.
When it comes to using herbs and spices, you really can't go wrong as long as you choose those that appeal to you and "agree" with you. But I want to highlight two in specific that are showing great therapeutic promise, one that you're already familiar with -- garlic -- and one that you may not be -- saffron.
Garlic: One of Nature's Most Impressive Foods
Garlic has been treasured for its medicinal properties for centuries. In ancient times, Greek and Roman soldiers ate garlic before going off to war, to enhance their strength and endurance.
It also happens to be one of the most heavily researched plant foods around. At GreenMedInfo you can find 133 studies involving 153 different conditions that garlic may benefit. Among them:
Atherosclerosis High blood pressure Cancer Gallstones Ear infections Mercury poisoning Diabetes Low immune function MRSA High triglycerides Candidiasis Ulcerative colitis Wound healing Stroke Heart attack Bacterial infections
As you can see from the wide range of conditions it impacts, garlic exerts its benefits on multiple levels, offering anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties. It's thought that much of garlic's therapeutic effect comes from its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin, which are also what give it its characteristic smell.
An Infection-Fighting, Heart-Protective, Cancer-Preventive Powerhouse
Researchers have revealed that as allicin digests in your body it produces sulfenic acid, a compound that reacts faster with dangerous free radicals than any other known compound. This is one of the reasons why I named garlic as one of the top seven anti-aging foods you can consume.
Garlic is also a triple threat against infections, offering antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Not only is it effective at killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including MRSA, but it also fights yeast infections, viruses and parasites.
Garlic also helps relax and enlarge the blood vessels in your body, improving blood flow, especially to your heart. This can help prevent conditions like high blood pressure and life-threatening events such as a heart attack or stroke. Garlic also inhibits the formation of plaques in your arteries, and prevents cholesterol from becoming oxidized, a condition that may contribute to heart disease.
This powerhouse food is also known to help increase your protection against at least five forms of cancer: breast, colon, ovarian, prostate and esophageal. In one study, the more often participants ate vegetables from the allium family, particularly garlic and onions, the lower their risk of certain cancers became. Part of this effect may be due to garlic's ability to increase tissue activities of phase II detoxification enzymes, which are necessary to help your body excrete chemicals and other toxins.
Interestingly, the allicin in garlic is so powerful it has even been found to help weight loss in rats fed a fructose-rich diet -- which is virtually guaranteed to make most people gain weight. Animals being fed only the fructose-rich diet gained weight, but those whose diets were supplemented with allicin did not, and some even lost weight. Of course, this does not mean you can eat all the fructose you want and then eat a couple of cloves of garlic and expect to lose weight … but it does give you an idea of just how far-reaching garlic's benefits appear to be.
The Healthiest Way to Eat Garlic
In many cases, eating whole foods is a far better approach to taking a supplement, and in the case of garlic this is especially true. Typically, garlic must be crushed or chopped in order to stimulate the process that converts alliin into the beneficial allicin. Once the garlic is cut, the active compound loses potency rapidly and will all but disappear within about an hour of chopping.
So the best way to eat garlic is to take a whole, fresh clove, chop it, smash it or press it, wait a few minutes for the reaction to occur, and then eat it. If you use jarred, powdered, or dried garlic, you will not get all the benefits that fresh garlic has to offer.
Saffron: An Important Spice for Brain Health?
The other spice that deserves attention, but is far less well known in the United States than garlic, is saffron. Saffron comes from the flower of the crocus plant (it's actually the plant's dried stigma) has a reddish thread-like appearance, and is a rich source of carotenoid antioxidants.
Used since ancient times for a variety of medicinal purposes (saffron is known for its immune-boosting power, among others), in the modern day it is widely used in Persian, European, Indian and Turkish cooking, both for its unique sweet, grassy flavor and its ability to add vibrant yellow-orange color to foods.
There are quite a few studies that reveal saffron's beneficial properties, and one of the most recent showed promise for treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. In a 22-week, double-blind study of patients with Alzheimer's, a saffron supplement worked as well as the drug donepezil (brand name Aricept), but with significantly less vomiting experienced among the saffron group.
"This phase II study provides preliminary evidence of a possible therapeutic effect of saffron extract in the treatment of patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease."
It is becoming increasingly clear that supplementing your diet with foods and supplements rich in a variety of compounds, such as vitamin E, folic acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-lipoic acid), may help reduce oxidative stress and delay the progression of age-related cognitive decline. And it appears saffron is no exception.
Separate research has shown saffron to help prevent and treat dementia, and inhibit platelet aggregation (which can lead to blood clots) and lipid peroxidation (which causes cell damage). It's also known to have chemopreventive properties against cancer, which are also strongly associated with the common saffron alternative turmeric (which is often referred to as Indian saffron). While in China, Marco Polo in 1280 AD recorded information on turmeric in his diary:
"There is also a vegetable which has all the properties of true saffron, as well the smell and the color, and yet it is not really saffron."
So, turmeric has been used as a substitute for saffron (an old world spice) in Europe for over 700 years, and this spice has been found to have many of the same health advantages, including showing promise for Alzheimer's.
If you've never tried saffron, the reason may be because it's earned the moniker "most expensive spice in the world." There are only three stigmas in each crocus flower, and it reportedly takes 80,000 flowers (about the number of plants on one acre of land) to produce one pound of saffron. Turmeric is much easier to come by and is also much less expensive, while offering many of the same potential health benefits, as well as the same characteristic yellow color. You can learn more about turmeric, or "Indian saffron," here.
There's Good Reason to "Spice" Up Your Life
Herbs and spices have very low calorie content, they're relatively inexpensive, and they're a great way to turbo-boost the natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power of your diet. All these benefits, and the ones noted above, give you ample reasons to be adventurous in adding spices to your meals, and to be generous in the amounts you use. It will be worth it for the flavor enhancement alone, and the boost it will give your health is the icing on the cake.
There's obviously much more to herbs and spices than the garlic, saffron and turmeric mentioned in this article … you can get more information on healing herbs, including how to select spices for their medicinal benefits, here.