“The reason for the presence of sulfur compounds in garlic is to allow the garlic bulb to survive (while it’s) in the ground, where it’s surrounded by predators microscopic and larger,” Block mentioned. The smelly, burning “compounds that are released when the garlic clove is disrupted serve to deter further attack.”
The position of allicin present in garlic
“There is a lot of folklore as to the beneficial health effects of garlic in the diet,” mentioned Alan Slusarenko, a professor of plant physiology at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, through e-mail. “However, we have no data from controlled clinical trials.”
Issue: How to show allicin right into a helpful drug
“That’s been the big problem: How do you take this compound allicin, with all these wonderful properties demonstrated in (human) cells, and make it into a useful drug?” Block mentioned.
“To try to translate that into a medicine has proven very, very challenging, and has led a lot of companies — that are out to make money — to make false claims based on the activity of these compounds in cells,” he added. In different phrases, some firms have been “trying to convince people that just because they’re very active in all these experiments, it’s also active as a pill or as a supplement.”
Allicin is “destroyed” when cooked, Slusarenko mentioned, “and off-the-shelf supplements generally have no or variable contents of allicin.”
And the US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary dietary supplements, so “advertisers can say whatever they want,” Block mentioned.
Possible unintended effects
Given these points, you would possibly assume that folks may simply eat uncooked garlic for health benefits.
However, this is not a good suggestion for a number of causes: Because allicin is garlic’s very potent protection, consuming uncooked garlic “can cause severe irritation and burns,” Block mentioned. The slower an individual’s metabolism, the extra probably it’s that they might expertise unintended effects comparable to rash, heartburn, abdomen irritation, and burns within the esophagus or digestive tract.
Some cultures do not have this downside. In some areas of the Mediterranean, for instance, “people will chew on garlic, and I guess they’ve developed a resistance to it,” Block mentioned. But for a lot of others, it is “dangerous and it should never be used with children. And it should not be used on sensitive areas of the body.”
A constructive, not a panacea
Maybe the most important good thing about garlic is not what science has to say about it, however somewhat how garlic can assist us eat higher.
“Scientifically, garlic and onions and related plants are really one of nature’s wonders. I think that there’s some very exciting science that one can discover,” Block mentioned.
“It’s possible that, in the future, scientists will discover ways to utilize these remarkable molecules in a way to treat disease. But again, that has to be done using the full power of science to test compounds in a fair and honest way to make sure that they actually work.”
NCS’s Sandee LaMotte contributed to this story.