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Garlic has been used for centuries as both a food ingredient and a medicine.

In fact, eating garlic can provide a wide variety of health benefits (1).

Garlic contains compounds that help the immune system fight germs.
Garlic contains compounds that help the immune system fight germs.

This includes reduced heart disease risk, improved mental health and enhanced immune function (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

This article explains how garlic is particularly protective against the common cold and the flu.

Garlic Can Boost Immune Function

Garlic contains compounds that help the immune system fight germs (7, 8).

Whole garlic contains a compound called alliin. When garlic is crushed or chewed, this compound turns into allicin (with a c), the main active ingredient in garlic (9).

Allicin contains sulfur, which gives garlic its distinctive smell and taste (10).

However, allicin is unstable, so it quickly converts to other sulphur-containing compounds thought to give garlic its medicinal properties (11).

These compounds have been shown to boost the disease-fighting response of some types of white blood cells in the body when they encounter viruses, such as the viruses that cause the common cold or flu (5, 12).

Bottom Line: Garlic can be crushed, chewed or sliced to produce allicin, which is thought to give garlic its immune-boosting properties.

Can Garlic Help Prevent Colds and the Flu?

Garlic has shown promise as a treatment for preventing colds and the flu.

Studies have shown that garlic reduces the risk of becoming sick in the first place, as well as how long you stay sick. It can also reduce the severity of symptoms (13, 14).

One study gave 146 healthy volunteers either garlic supplements or a placebo for three months. The garlic group had a 63 percent lower risk of getting a cold and their colds were also 70 percent shorter (13).

Another study found that colds were on average 61 percent shorter for subjects who ate 2.56 grams of aged garlic extract per day, compared to a placebo group. Their colds were also less severe (14).

If you often get sick with a cold or flu, eating garlic can help reduce your symptoms or prevent your illness entirely.

However, a review of the evidence found that many of the studies investigating the effects of garlic on the common cold were of poor quality (15).

It’s also unknown if you need to take garlic constantly or if it also works as a short-term treatment when you start getting sick.

Bottom Line: Regularly eating garlic may help prevent the common cold or the flu. If you do get sick, eating garlic can reduce the severity of your symptoms and help you recover faster.

How to Maximize the Benefits of Garlic

The way garlic is processed or prepared can really change its health benefits.

The enzyme alliinase, which converts alliin into the beneficial allicin, only works under certain conditions. It can also be deactivated by heat.

One study found that as little as 60 seconds of microwaving or 45 minutes in the oven can deactivate alliinase and another study found similar results (16, 17).

However, it was noted that crushing garlic and allowing it to stand for 10 minutes before cooking can help prevent the loss of its medicinal properties.

The researchers also state that the loss of health benefits due to cooking could be compensated for by increasing the amount of garlic used.

Here are a few ways to maximize the health benefits of garlic:

  • Crush or slice all your garlic before you eat it. This increases the allicin content.
  • Before you cook with your crushed garlic, let it stand for 10 minutes.
  • Use a lot of garlic—more than one clove per meal, if you can.

Bottom Line: Ensure whole garlic is crushed, chewed or sliced before it’s eaten. Let crushed garlic stand for 10 minutes before you cook it.

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