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Garlic and MS: Are There Potential Health Benefits?

Posted on May 17, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Nyaka Mwanza

The use of garlic for both culinary and medicinal purposes dates back centuries and spans different cultures around the globe. Garlic is said to prevent and treat a variety of health conditions from the common cold to high blood pressure. Many health benefits of garlic are supported by clinical research and data. However, there are few clinical studies on garlic and multiple sclerosis (MS).

About Garlic

Garlic, scientifically known as Allium sativum L., is an allium vegetable like onions, shallots, and leeks. Common garlic preparations include aged garlic extract (AGE), garlic oil, and garlic powder. AGE is garlic that is soaked in ethyl alcohol for several months. Garlic can also be eaten uncooked.

Around 40 different bioactive compounds have been identified in garlic. Scientists are still discovering the compounds that can benefit health. The main bioactive compounds found in garlic are amino acids, enzymes, minerals, and sulfur (organosulfur compounds).

Fresh Garlic Bulbs

Several types of fresh garlic are commonly used in cooking. Garlic contains bioactive compounds. These are chemicals that can have a positive impact on health and the body. Different types of garlic have different flavors — ranging from spicy to sweet — and they have various bioactive compounds at different concentrations.

Garlic Supplements

Garlic can be consumed as a supplement, in which the active compounds are taken from fresh garlic cloves. Different extraction processes can change garlic compounds and their effects. Extraction can change the concentration and function of garlic’s various bioactive chemicals, make chemical compounds hard to measure, and have an impact on the garlic supplement’s health benefits.

Dietary supplements are not held to safety and effectiveness standards by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Talk with your health care provider before adding a garlic supplement (or any supplement) to your routine.

Potential Health Benefits of Garlic for People With MS

Research about garlic’s impact on MS is limited. Garlic may offer health benefits to people with MS through its neuroprotective effects, which help prevent cognitive damage, improve learning, and increase memory retention. AGE in particular is thought to boost brain health.

Garlic’s Neuroprotective Effects May Help Prevent Neuronal Death and Neurodegeneration

In otherwise healthy individuals, when neurons become infected, inflamed, or injured, they undergo a process of self-destruction called apoptosis (cell death). It has been hypothesized that issues with apoptosis play a role in MS. Garlic may help prevent dysfunctional apoptosis in people with MS. This mechanism may also help prevent or slow neurodegeneration (damage to neurons) due to MS.

Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation and may protect the central nervous system from inflammation due to MS.

Garlic’s Antioxidant Effects May Protect Against Cognitive Decline

Garlic’s antioxidant effects have been thought to help protect neurons from toxicity, oxidative stress, the natural effects of aging, and central nervous system conditions. Garlic may play a protective role in neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly MS. In animal model studies, garlic was shown to improve impaired cognitive function and memory, both common MS symptoms.

Garlic May Reduce the Risk or Help Treat Comorbid Conditions

People with MS may be at an increased risk of comorbidities (other conditions). Garlic may help prevent and/or manage some conditions that people with MS may be more susceptible to, such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease or heart disease
  • Certain types of cancer such as colon and prostate cancer
  • Metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes
  • Hyperlipidemia

Possible Risks of Consuming Garlic

Garlic is generally considered safe to eat and is an essential ingredient in many cuisines. However, there is a lack of safety data on garlic consumption or supplementation. Some people are sensitive or allergic to garlic, particularly when eaten in large quantities.

Possible Health Risks

Garlic has anticoagulant properties that could contribute to bleeding problems. This risk is of particular concern to people taking blood-thinning drugs to prevent clotting.

Some research suggests that garlic boosts the functioning of the immune system. Other research suggests that it normalizes the immune system. For people with MS, whose immune systems don’t function normally, increased activity of the immune system may not be helpful.

Possible Side Effects

The most common side effect of consuming garlic is breath and body odor. Mild side effects reported in clinical studies include gastrointestinal or stomach irritation that causes symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, gas, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting.

Potential Drug Interactions

There is currently no research on the interaction between garlic or garlic supplements and MS medications. Always talk to your doctor about all the medications and supplements you take.

Garlic Preparation Tips To Maximize Health Benefits

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

  • Chop or mince garlic cloves. This helps to activate garlic’s key sulfur compounds. Let the garlic sit for a few minutes between cutting and cooking to ensure maximum health benefits.
  • Avoid heating garlic to temperatures higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Heat changes garlic’s pH balance and kills certain compounds.
  • Fermented garlic (AGE or black garlic) provides the highest concentrations of healthful compounds, followed by raw garlic, cooked garlic, and lastly, dried and powdered garlic. Keep in mind that eating raw garlic is more likely to irritate your stomach.

Find Your Team

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. Here, more than 186,000 members come together to ask and answer questions, offer support, and share their stories with MS.

Have you noticed any health benefits from eating garlic? Do you take garlic supplements? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References
  1. Garlic in Health and Disease — Nutrition Research Reviews
  2. Allium Foods: Mystical Functional Foods for Health Promotion — Aprifel
  3. Immunomodulation and Anti-inflammatory Effects of Garlic Compounds — Journal of Immunology Research
  4. Bioactive Compound — National Cancer Institute
  5. The Health Benefits of Garlic — Cleveland Clinic
  6. Bioactive Compounds and Biological Functions of Garlic (Allium Sativum L.) — Foods
  7. What You Need To Know About Dietary Supplements — United States Food and Drug Administration
  8. The Disease-protective Properties of Garlic — Today's Dietitian
  9. Neuroprotective Effects Of Garlic: A Review — Libyan Journal of Medicine
  10. Oligodendrocyte Cell Death in Pathogenesis of Multiple Sclerosis: Protection of Oligodendrocytes From Apoptosis by Complement — Journal Of Rehabilitation Research & Development
  11. Targeting Apoptosis to Treat Multiple Sclerosis — Therapeutics Based on Downregulation of the Inhibitor of Apoptosis Family — touchNEUROLOGY
  12. Antioxidant Health Effects of Aged Garlic Extract — The Journal of Nutrition
  13. Garlic and Neurodegenerative Disorders: A Review — International Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemical Research
  14. Garlic Found to Protect Brain Against Disease, Aging — University of Missouri School of Medicine
  15. Potential Health Benefits of Garlic (Allium Sativum): A Narrative Review — Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine
  16. Allicin and Other Functional Active Components in Garlic: Health Benefits and Bioavailability — International Journal of Food Properties
  17. Amino Acid — Cleveland Clinic
  18. Enzymes — Cleveland Clinic
  19. Potential Health Benefit of Garlic Based on Human Intervention Studies: A Brief Overview — Antioxidants
  20. Neuroprotection for CNS Disorders — Neuropharmacology & Neurotherapeutics
  21. Allicin, an Antioxidant and Neuroprotective Agent, Ameliorates Cognitive Impairment — Antioxidants
  22. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) — Cleveland Clinic
  23. Review Recommends Guidelines for Patients With MS Taking Herbal Drugs, Supplements — American Journal of Managed Care
  24. Using Dietary Supplements Wisely — National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Nyaka Mwanza has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Learn more about her here.

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