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In addition to making up a staple seasoning in Western diets -- you'll find it in a range of recipes, from spreads to salads to casseroles -- garlic also offers medicinal benefits. Allicin, one of the organic compounds abundant in garlic, helps prevent disease and might also treat some health conditions. However, it might also cause adverse effects and interact with some medications, which might threaten your health. If you're interested in taking garlic extract or allicin supplements, you should first consult your health care provider to prevent harmful side effects.
Garlic allicin helps to fight bacterial and fungal infections. It increases the efficacy of anti-fungal medications to fight Candida albicans -- a fungus that can infect the mouth or genitals -- reports a study published in the "Journal of Antibiotics" in 2009. An additional study, published in the September 2011 issue of "Molecules," notes that allicin prevents Staphylococcus aureus -- the bacterium responsible for staph infections -- from producing alpha-toxin, the chemical that damages your tissues during an infection.
Garlic allicin also offers cancer-fighting benefits. It helps regulate cell death, promoting cancer cell death to fight cancer growth. Exposure to allicin causes colon cancer cells to self-destruct, reports a study published in the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" in 2012. It also promotes cell death in glioblastoma brain cancer cells, according to a 2012 paper published "Oncology Reports." While it is not yet known just how effectively allicin fights and treats cancer in humans, it might offer significant cancer protection.
Consuming garlic allicin also benefits your heart and blood vessels, fighting cardiovascular disease. Allicin lowers your blood level of of homocysteine -- an amino acid linked to cardiovascular disease -- according to a report published in the "European Journal of Pharmacology" in 2013. By lowering homocysteine levels, it prevents blood vessel damage and keeps your blood vessels functioning properly. An animal study, from the March 2013 issue of the "Israel Medical Association Journal," notes that allicin also reduces blood pressure and lowers triglyceride levels. Because high triglycerides and blood pressure threaten your cardiovascular health, allicin's role in reducing them might lower cardiovascular disease risk.
While the dangers of allicin specifically -- instead of garlic in general -- require more investigation, taking garlic allicin might pose a health risk to some individuals. Garlic reduces the effectiveness of some medications, including birth control pills and AIDS medications. It also acts as a blood thinner, which can increase your risk of spontaneous bleeding. Taking garlic can cause additional side effects, including dizziness, digestive upset and bloating. While it is not known exactly which compounds in garlic cause side effects, allicin might be responsible for some of them.