The ancient Egyptians didn’t have Viagra, but they did have garlic. The pungent plant was not only used as an aphrodisiac, but as a male potency enhancer, adhesive, insect repellent, and even as a charm to protect yourself from devils and vampires. Handy stuff!
Even today there are garlic enthusiasts who claim this cousin of the onion can cure colds, reduce hair loss, and fight cancer. So it’s hardly surprising that some studies have shown that garlic can help reduce blood sugar. With all these uses, it’s a wonder anyone still uses it to make plain old garlic bread.
But could garlic help reduce blood sugar? Like almost all health claims, it’s complicated.
One 2006 study found that high concentrations of raw garlic can reduce the serum glucose levels in rats, and the same study found that garlic could also reduce cholesterol levels.
The researchers noted that the potential health benefits of garlic were especially exciting for people with diabetes since the condition increases risk for cardiovascular disease, and garlic reduced both cholesterol and blood sugar.
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But it’s hard to know if humans would react the same way even if they were fed raw garlic every day for four weeks, as was the case with the rats.
A 2014 review on a body of garlic studies did admit that most studies had found garlic to have a hypoglycemic effect, and one study found that a group of people using Metformin and garlic to treat type 2 diabetes showed a greater reduction in blood glucose than those using Metformin alone. Garlic needed to be further studied, but “Chronic feeding of garlic extracts showed significant decrease in blood glucose level,” but not necessarily any long-term improvements after the “chronic feeding” period was over.
It looks like garlic can lower blood sugar, probably because of compounds that raise insulin levels and prevent the liver from deactivating insulin (for those with type 2). But chronic feeding may not be desirable in humans, or even possible.
Garlic, healthy as it may be, is not without side effects. Besides the need to brush your teeth constantly, garlic can cause such unpleasantries as gas, heartburn, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. It may also enhance the effects of blood thinning medication. And to reap the benefits of garlic, it’s probably necessary to consume abnormal levels of the stuff, which will increase any side effects.
Garlic does have a more clearly positive reputation when it comes to cardiovascular health. Most research supports the theory that garlic can help lower blood pressure, prevent atherosclerosis (harding of the arteries), and reduce cholesterol—all conditions that people with diabetes are at an increased risk for.
Again, the studies making these claims experiment with large amounts of garlic on a consistent basis, and not everyone may be able to consume that much garlic. Garlic supplementation should be discussed with a doctor to discover if there are contraindications or unsafe dosage levels.
The best thing about garlic is that it is a great low-calorie way to flavor your food naturally. And if you nurse a love for garlic all through your life, you may indeed end up healthier. At the very least you’ll be safe from vampires!