Garlic isn’t only supposedly good for keeping away vampires. No, this essential ingredient for many popular dishes is also packed with health benefits. In fact, it’s easy to consider it a superfood with every way garlic can help you get healthier.

This may seem funny to us today — with garlic bread or garlic butter sauce being a common way to indulge in this herb — but for our ancestors, garlic was often looked at as a medicine! While medical knowledge has certainly grown since ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Indians may have been on to something!

The Power of Sulfuric Compounds

So, why did ancient people believe that garlic had medicinal qualities? Well, that may be because it kind of does. Garlic contains sulfuric compounds, such as allicin, which have shown to have numerous benefits for many different parts of the body.

The sulfuric compounds in allicin are part of a defense mechanism used to protect the herb from predators. When garlic’s tissues are damaged — through crushing or cutting, for example — they secrete these sulfuric compounds, which are highly irritative. This is why onions, a cousin of garlic, make us cry when we cut them.

Garlic supplements have been linked with fewer cases and reduced severity of cold and flu symptoms.

These defensive compounds kill microbes and offer an abundance of health benefits. For example, an allicin-containing garlic supplement has been linked with decreasing instances of the common cold and garlic extract has been linked to reducing the severity of cold and flu symptoms. However, more research is needed before causation is established.

One thing to note is that these sulfuric compounds only develop when you damage the tissues, and they weaken quickly, so they only appear in fresh garlic. Roasting or cooking the garlic can also weaken the effect. Basically, the stronger the garlic flavor, the stronger the sulfuric compounds, and possibly, the benefits of allicin.

Amazing for Your Heart

The sulfuric compounds and other nutrients in garlic also have many benefits for your heart health. Many studies point toward it having the ability to decrease consumers’ cholesterol and blood pressure levels by as much as 10 percent and three to eight points, respectively. Some studies also found that garlic extract may be an effective nonpharmacological option to prevent cardiovascular disease when taken properly.

Studies point toward garlic having the ability to decrease cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

The research on garlic has largely shown that it’s a net positive for heart health, though the extent at which it is so is up for debate. One critical review of garlic’s relationship with cardiovascular disease further supported how healthy garlic can be for your heart. An even earlier review, however, found that the majority of studies support “the proposal that garlic consumption [has] significant cardioprotective effect.” It’s important to note, though, that both reviews state that more studies are necessary to further confirm their findings.

May Combat Cancer

One of the more newsworthy ways garlic benefits your diet is its potential cancer fighting properties. While garlic won’t cure cancer or guarantee that you won’t get it, there are certainly some promising anti-cancer properties that garlic seems to have.

Population studies have linked garlic intake with a lowered risk of stomach, colon, colorectal, esophagus, pancreas, and breast cancers. While studies have had good — though sometimes mixed — results, there’s been enough evidence that even the American Institute for Cancer Research is pointing out garlic’s potential anti-cancer properties!

The American Institute for Cancer Research notes garlic’s potential anti-cancer properties!

So, what in garlic helps lower your risk of cancer? For starters, there’s garlic’s mix of nutrients and antioxidants, like allicin, flavonoids, and saponins. Together, these all may help lower your risk of several different cancers. Another study found that garlic may induce apoptosis (cell death), in cancer cells and referred back to the National Cancer Institute’s Designer Food Program that called garlic “the most powerful anticarcinogenic agent.”

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All these perks aren’t the only garlic benefits, not by a long shot. We didn’t even get into the studies that show that garlic may boost your immunity, slow aging, and fight fatigue! At the same time, it’s important to remember that, by combining it with a ton of unhealthy ingredients, you can undo a lot of the good. So, while garlic can be very healthy for you, mashed potatoes drowning in garlic butter can have the opposite effect. That said, garlic is easy to include in your diet because it’s such a common ingredient and tastes so good. We think it’s a painless way to add a little extra health into your diet!