Surprising Best Defense for Colds and Viruses
Using food as medicine in many cultures is an ancient practice and a standard in health care. Romans, Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans were especially known for their use of garlic as an agent of health. Today, garlic has been recognized as a valuable supplement that physicians like me promote as part of an integrative and functional approach to medicine—especially during the holiday season and winter months when colds and flu are so rampant!
Garlic as Medicine
Garlic is therapeutic for a number of conditions, but is most commonly used to treat diseases of the cardiovascular system because it acts like a natural blood thinner. Garlic as medicine is categorized as a vitamin or dietary supplement, which can be taken daily in tablet or capsule form. Garlic can be applied as a topical oil or even injected directly into the chest. Cooking with garlic is another way of gleaning its nutritional value, but it may not meet its full therapeutic potential!
Garlic works in two ways. One, garlic has blood-thinning capabilities. Two, garlic produces a chemical called allicin, which is active against microbes and gives garlic its distinctive smell. Allicin has antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, and antiviral properties. (WOW. Need I say more?) This is due to a reaction between allicin and the enzymes affecting the metabolism of microbial populations. Odorless products may be less effective since the allicin component is weaker. I recommend looking for coated capsules that help the supplements dissolve in the intestine instead of the stomach (so as not to disturb healthy microbiota).
As a blood thinner, garlic is used to treat numerous conditions of the heart and blood:
- High blood pressure
- Low blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart attack
- Reduced blood flow due to narrowed arteries
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Menstrual disorders
Garlic’s antimicrobial properties make it effective as an antibiotic, especially for illnesses that result from infection. For example, garlic is commonly used to reduce symptoms of hay fever, flu, earaches, ear infections, fevers, coughs, headaches, stomachaches, sinus congestion, fungal infections, parasites, and STDs. It also cuts the length and severity of colds. Garlic has even been used as a preventative treatment for many forms of cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Garlic as a Home Remedy
If you want to forgo the dietary supplements, you can easily harness the power of garlic at home. Since I studied traditional Chinese medicine, I make this garlic salve recipe at the first sign of a cough or cold. If I know my children have been exposed to a virus at school or on the playground, this is the perfect remedy and uses simple ingredients I have on hand.
There are no side effects to using garlic for its therapeutic qualities. In fact, garlic is a great way to keep both kids and adults healthy throughout the cold and flu season!
½ cup coconut oil
10-15 cloves of crushed garlic
5-10 drops of essential lavender oil (if available)
Whip all ingredients together and store in the fridge for up to three months. Apply the garlic salve to your chest and feet. I recommend wearing an old shirt and socks because the salve can be greasy when applied to the skin (in part because of your body temperature). Apply often at first symptoms of cough, cold, or viral exposure.
Garlic for Ear Infections
Another reason to always have garlic on-hand is for middle-ear infections—in lieu of antibiotics (you just have to be sure the ear drum is not perforated)! You can buy garlic oil for ears at a local health food store, or it’s easy to make your own. Simply crush/mince a few cloves of garlic and dissolve into pure oil olive. I like to gently warm the oil by placing in a glass container and running warm water around it for 3-4-minutes. Always test the warmed oil for temperature on your forearm before placing in the ear. Then, do 3 – 4 drops of oil in the ear (keep ear tilted to the side to allow oil to drain inside of it) 3 times a day. Usually, it takes 2 – 4 days of using garlic oil to help calm down the inflammation and infection, but results can be felt as quickly as several hours after the first drops are given. It’s always best to start the garlic oil at the first sign of ear discomfort. The garlic oil coupled with some gentle downward massage (behind the ears and down towards the neck) can make all the difference!