How good is garlic for your heart?
Garlic is a common ingredient in many cuisines. It typically serves to add flavor to your food, but it’s also been linked to better heart health.
Below, we’ll look at studies that have investigated whether garlic can help keep your arteries clear and lower blood pressure to contribute to a healthy heart.
Of course, garlic is just one of the many foods that can impact your overall health and well-being.
At ZOE, we run the largest nutrition study in the world, and we look at how your body responds to a range of different foods and food combinations.
Our unique at-home test analyzes your blood sugar and blood fat responses to the foods you eat, as well as the makeup of your gut microbiome. These factors can all affect your risk of long-term health conditions, including heart disease.
You can take our free quiz to learn more about how ZOE can help you achieve your health goals.
Can garlic help with heart health?
People have used garlic as a natural remedy for thousands of years. It’s rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and the mineral manganese, and it can be consumed raw, cooked, aged, or in supplement form.
But is garlic actually good for your heart?
High blood pressure — also known as hypertension — is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes. That’s why managing your blood pressure is an important part of maintaining a healthy heart.
A key compound in garlic is allicin, which contains sulfur and gives garlic its distinctive smell and color. Some experts believe that allicin and other natural substances present in garlic have anti-inflammatory effects and may help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
A review of 17 studies investigating high blood pressure and garlic found that garlic supplements seem to effectively lower blood pressure compared with placebo.
Most studies used garlic powder — although some used garlic extracts or garlic oil — in different daily dosages for a duration of between 2–24 weeks.
It's important to note that the review’s authors highlighted the need for further clinical trials to analyze the safety profile, effective dosage, and duration of treatment with garlic supplements.
Aged garlic is produced by soaking slices of garlic in alcohol for up to 20 months. Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers showed that this way of processing garlic produces more potent antioxidants when compared with fresh garlic extract.
In one study, 55 people with a number of risk factors for heart disease took either a placebo or a large dose of aged garlic extract — 2.4 grams — every day for a year.
People in the aged garlic group saw a reduction of a specific kind of plaque in the deposits in their arteries, compared with those who took a placebo during the same time period, who did not see a reduction.
Similarly, another study showed that taking aged garlic extract daily for 1 year appears to slow down the progression of coronary artery hardening in study participants with a moderate to high risk of heart disease.
Coronary artery hardening, or calcification, is a sign of disease in the arteries that supply blood to your heart, which can lead to heart disease.
In short, there is evidence that your heart may benefit from garlic, but remember that more trials are needed to study how this might work and how safe it is. Before considering any changes to your medications, discuss this with your doctor.
How to consume garlic
If you’re keen to get more garlic into your diet, it’s worth considering how much you should consume and in what form.
When it comes to adding fresh garlic to a meal, there’s some evidence that the way you prepare it matters.
One study found that after a clove of garlic is crushed, the range of different sulfides that form continues to increase for hours afterward.
Since these substances may be involved in some of garlic’s beneficial properties, the researchers suggest crushing your garlic and keeping it sealed in a container for a while before you add it to a meal.
The same study found that heating garlic reduces the formation of sulfides, so if you're cooking with garlic, it’s best to eat your meal as soon as possible once it’s ready.
There are other forms of garlic that are available, such as powdered garlic, garlic extracts, or garlic oil. Keep in mind that supplements are not regulated in the same way that medications are.
The compounds in supplements can vary widely, as there are no set protocols that manufacturers need to follow to ensure quality and purity.
Garlic can also interact with certain drugs, including blood thinners. If you’re taking medication, make sure to speak to your doctor before trying garlic supplements.
Other ways to improve your heart health
There are many proven ways to help boost your heart health, including adding exercise to your routine, eating less salt, and cutting out smoking.
Your diet also plays a significant role in your risk of developing heart disease.
1. Do regular exercise
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that you get at least 150 minutes a week — 30 mins a day — of moderate cardio exercise, like brisk walking or gardening, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity like running, cycling, or swimming.
The AHA also recommend including some muscle-strengthening work like weights or resistance training a couple of times a week.
But remember, if you’re just getting started, any movement is better than none. Walking for a few minutes several times a day is a great place to begin.
2. Eat the right foods for you
Research has shown clear links between food and your risk of heart disease. Following a Mediterranean-style diet — rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil — can lower your risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.
At ZOE, we run the largest nutritional sciences study of its kind in the world, with over 15,000 participants so far. Our research has shown that how your body responds to the foods you eat is unique to you.
Our at-home test analyzes your blood sugar and blood fat responses to food and the bacteria in your gut, some of which are linked to better and worse health, including cholesterol levels and other risk factors for heart disease.
The ZOE program then gives you personalized nutrition advice to help you reach your long-term health goals.
3. Eat less salt
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which in turn increases your long-term risk of developing heart disease. Adding more herbs and spices — like garlic — to your meals can help boost flavor without overloading them with salt.
Most of the salt in our diet comes from processed and restaurant foods, so make sure to check the labeling on store-bought food to keep track of how much sodium you’re consuming.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the top contenders for salt include bread, pizza, cold cuts, soups, burritos and tacos, and cheese.
Bear in mind that the recommended intake of salt for adults is currently no more than 2,300 milligrams a day.
4. Avoid smoking
Smoking puts you at a higher risk of heart disease.
When tar from tobacco smoke lines your throat, it attracts fatty deposits that stick to your artery walls. If the arteries to your heart become too clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. Smoking also increases your blood pressure and heart rate.
Quitting smoking can be difficult. If you need help, there’s lots of advice available.
Garlic may reduce blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. But more research is needed.
How you consume garlic could make a difference in how much of the potentially beneficial compounds make it into your food.
Speak to a healthcare professional before reaching for garlic supplements if you are looking for ways to get larger amounts of garlic into your diet, as these can interact with a number of medications.
There are many proven ways to improve your heart health, including adding exercise to your routine, reducing your salt intake, quitting smoking, and following a Mediterranean diet.
With ZOE’s personalized nutrition program, you can find the foods that work best for your body and your long-term health goals.
You can take ZOE’s free quiz to learn more.
Aged garlic extract reduces low attenuation plaque in coronary arteries of patients with metabolic syndrome in a prospective randomized double-blind study. The Journal of Nutrition. (2016). https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/146/2/427S/4584725
Aged garlic has more potent antiglycation and antioxidant properties compared to fresh garlic extract in vitro. Scientific Reports. (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5209668/
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Garlic lowers blood pressure in hypertensive subjects, improves arterial stiffness and gut microbiota: A review and meta-analysis. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine. (2020). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6966103/
Garlic lowers blood pressure in hypertensive individuals, regulates serum cholesterol, and stimulates immunity: an updated meta-analysis and review. The Journal of Nutrition. (2016). https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/146/2/389S/4584698
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Hypertension and cardiovascular risk: General aspects. Pharmacological Research. (2018). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1043661817311180?via%3Dihub
Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. Journal of Immunology Research. (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4417560/
Intake of garlic and its bioactive components. The Journal of Nutrition. (2001). https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/3/955S/4687054
Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts. New England Journal of Medicine. (2018). https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1800389
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