Every Labor Day Weekend, people from miles around in every direction come to Bennington to celebrate garlic. That's right; our town is host to the Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival, one of the top ten garlic festivals in the United States. Most of the vendors and festival goers are there to celebrate the one-of-a-kind taste of this humble vegetable and all of the different ways it can be used to spice or sweeten our favorite foods. There will certainly be garlic pickles, super garlicy pizza, and even garlic ice cream.
An idea that gets less attention at Garlic Fest are the surprising health benefits of garlic. There are a lot! In fact, garlic was believed to have medicinal properties for thousands of years. According to the National Institutes of Health US National Library of Medicine, Chinese healers used garlic to treat depression as early as 2700 BC, and the first Olympians used it to improve their performance. A 2001 article in the Journal of Nutrition, cites references to garlic in the Bible and its use for treating parasites and increasing fertility in the Jewish Talmud.
Healers of the ancient world were acting on anecdotal results they were able to see in their patients. Now, we have some science to confirm claims of garlic's health benefits. Garlic has been shown to have a long list of healthful properties, including those as an antibiotic, antiviral, antioxidant, antiinflammatory, antifungal, and an analgesic. These medicinal characteristics make it useful in a lot of circumstances. Take a look at the list of ailments below to see how garlic can make a difference in your health and wellbeing.
High blood pressure
Garlic is a super food for heart health. This well-documented benefit indicates improved blood circulation, lower cholesterol, and prevention of heart disease. It can help slow the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which increases the risk for a heart attack and stroke. Studies have shown that garlic also can reduce high blood pressure, especially systolic blood pressure. Garlic acts as a vasodilator, which helps to widen the blood vessels, making blood flow more smoothly. To get the maximum benefit, eat a clove of raw garlic twice a day.
Garlic is a surprisingly good source of vitamins C, B6, and the minerals selenium, and manganese—all of which boost the immune system. And if you do end up with a cold, garlic offers antibiotic and antiviral benefits which may help treat it or reduce its severity. Garlic's antiviral and anti-inflammatory characteristics can sometimes help with seasonal allergies too. To give it a try, steep a few cloves of crushed garlic in a teapot of hot water to make a tea. Drink several cups. The garlic will likely help with the infection, as will the warmth and the extra hydration. If you don't like the taste, try mixing in some honey.
The list goes on to include skin infections like ringworm, athlete's foot, and jock itch. Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, ingesting garlic may help reduce pain and other symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis. And garlic is sometimes effective in reducing toothache. It has antibacterial properties and has been shown to relieve pain.
Limited studies have shown benefits to athletic performance, detoxifying, in preventing some cancers, and improving bone health. And because heart disease and lung infections are common causes of death among older people, you might be able to claim that garlic helps people live longer.
Of course, your primary care provider is your best source of information regarding how to include garlic in your diet. Consult your physician before starting a garlic regimen. He or she will ensure that you are receiving the best care for the conditions you have and making use of natural remedies that could make a positive difference, too. Between now and your next doctor's visit, enjoy all of the delicious ways to ingest garlic and a little pleasure knowing that you are likely getting a health boost at the same time.
William Sarchino, DPM, is a podiatrist and the director of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center's Podiatry Residency Program. Residents in the program will conduct a free foot screening at the Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4 at Camelot Village on Route 9 in Bennington. For more information about the program, visit svhealthcare.org/podiatry-residency/. For more articles like this one, visit svhealthcare.org/wellnessconnection.