Of all garlic's reputed medicinal benefits, perhaps the best well known is
its use as a natural antibiotic and antibacterial agent with reports going back through history.
There are even stories of it being used to ward
off the plague. It's not known how effective this was, however there is some
evidence that anthrax is sensitive to garlic. Some people have even suggested that it
might help in the fight against acne although that might be too
much to hope for.
Garlic's antibiotic properties have been more extensively studied than some
of its other reputed health benefits.
Louis Pasteur examined garlic's use as an antibacterial back in the nineteenth
century and showed how it killed bacteria under laboratory conditions. Numerous modern studies confirm that garlic has definite antibiotic
properties and is effective against many bacteria, fungi and viruses. According to Wright
State University (1), garlic is approximately one per
cent as potent an antibiotic as penicillin.
Some people have reported that even blood from a garlic eater can itself kill bacteria!
Researchers have compared the effectiveness of garlic with that of commercial prescription antibiotics.
The result is often that garlic can be more effective as a broad spectrum antibiotic. However
if a particular bacterium or virus
is being treated a more specifically targeted antibiotic if available could be a more effective
treatment than the more generic effect of garlic.
One significant advantage of garlic is that the bacteria do not seem to evolve to build up a resistance
to it as they do to many modern antibiotics; "garlic does not seem to produce such resistant strains" (3). This also makes it potentially effective against
hospital superbugs (2) - or at least less likely to contribute to their evolution.
Note: Garlic can interfere with the operation of some medical drugs, in particular anti-coagulants.
I do not advocate taking garlic as a precaution before entering hospital unless you
discuss it with your doctor first.
The antibiotic qualities of garlic appear to be a direct result of the allicin
produced from raw, crushed garlic. This is destroyed by age and cooking - cooked garlic has virtually no antibiotic
value although it still retains other benefits.
I do not recommend using garlic as a replacement for conventional medical antibiotics unless agreed with
your doctor - peronally I treat any antibiotic properties as a bonus of eating it, not a reason to do so.
However as more and more antibiotics are becoming almost useless
due to over-prescription and side effects, garlic and products derived from it
could one day have a part to play in modern medicine.
(1): Wright State University
(2): Garlic: A natural antibiotic (American Chemical Society)
(3): Allium sativum: Antibiotic and Immune Properties