It seems that the Egyptians were onto something. In a previous article I mentioned their respect for the healing powers of honey. Well, it seems they were also right when they praised garlic in the Ebers Papyrus. For at least 5,000 years the pungent bulb has been used to treat infection and improve overall health, but scientists have never been quite sure why it was so effective – until now.

Researchers from the University of Alabama have discovered that consumption of garlic boosts our supply of hydrogen sulfide, a compound that is naturally produced in our bodies and acts as an antioxidant. The molecule also sends signals which cause blood vessels to relax thereby increasing blood flow.

In fact, hydrogen sulfide seems to supply a wide range of benefits. In a previous study, scientist from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that it almost completely prevented damage to the heart caused by heart attack. The herb’s ability to increase hydrogen sulfide production may also explain why garlic-rich diets have been shown to protect against breast, prostate and colon cancers.

The amount of garlic used in the study equates to about two medium sized cloves per day. For some of us, like me, this isn’t a hard goal to reach. I’ve a bit of a reputation for adding the herb to everything except chocolate (although my use is mild compared to countries such as Italy, where it’s not uncommon for an adult to consume as many as 12 cloves per day).

In order to get the full benefits of the herb, Dr. Kraus recommends crushing the cloves and then letting them stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Doing this allows important enzyme reactions to take place which increase the healing properties. I would also suggest that you add your garlic toward the end of cooking your dish, as overheating can break down the beneficial compounds.

Eating fennel seeds or fresh parsley will help neutralize the odor, as will chewing on a cinnamon stick, although a dear friend of mine who owned his own restaurant swears that the best cure for “garlic breath” is simply to have everyone eat it. It sounds like a fine plan to me!

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