Garlic does more than just invigorate your palate and ward off vampires; it’s also a smelly superfood health aid. The spice is a highly nutritious vegetable with very few calories, containing trace amounts of other nutrients that contribute to its universal status of a powerful, beneficial healer. The natural medicinal ingredient, both as a fresh plant and supplement, can strengthen immune function and boost overall well-being.

Garlic’s delicious flavor and health benefits have led to a steady increase in demand. The average garlic consumption per capita per year is 2 pounds. A healthy adult can safely consume up to four cloves of garlic each day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, with each one weighing about a gram.

The body-strengthening effects of this herb are thought to be due to its active ingredient allicin. This is what gives garlic its distinctive taste and smell. Whether you take your garlic powdered, salted, or minced or in supplement form, you can reap the surprising benefits of this multipurpose herb for optimal health.

1. Treats Acne

This herb may not be found in acne products’ list of ingredients, but it can serve as a natural topical treatment to get rid of blemishes. Allicin, the organic compound in garlic, has the ability to stop the damaging effects of radicals and kill bacteria, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Angewandte Chemie. In its decomposed form — sulfenic acid — allicin produces a fast reaction with radicals, which makes it a valuable herb for treating acne scars, skin diseases, and allergies.

2. Treats Hair Loss

A head full of hair that smells like garlic could help in the treatment of hair loss. The herb’s extremely high sulfur content contains keratin, the protein hair is made of. This stimulates fortification and growth. A 2007 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venerology and Leprology found the use of a garlic gel added to the therapeutic efficacy of topical betamethasone valerate for alopecia areata treatment can be effective to induce hair re-growth.

3. Fights Common Cold

Garlic’s allicin can serve as a health aid during times of illness. Rene Ficek, a registered dietician and a lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating in Illinois told Medical Daily in an email: “Garlic cloves contain a healthy dose of allicin, but you may still need a few cloves per day to feel the effects.” However, garlic supplementation can also be used to ward off viruses.

A 2001 study published in the journal Advances In Therapy found a daily garlic supplement can reduce the number of colds by 63 percent compared to not taking supplements. Moreover, the average length of cold symptoms was also reduced to 70 percent, from five days in the control group to 1.5 days in garlic supplement group. These findings suggest the allicin-containing supplement has a protective effect against the common cold.

4. Lowers Blood Pressure

A garlic supplement a day may help keep your blood pressure at bay. Its active compounds can significantly reduce blood pressure comparable to the effects of prescribed drugs. Aged garlic extract between 600 to 1,500 milligrams (mg) was found to be just as effective as the drug Atenolol prescribed for hypertension in a 24-week period, according to a 2013 study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Garlic is believed to activate the production of the endothelium-derived relaxation factor, according to Ficek, due to the herb’s high amount of polysulfides — sulfur — containing molecules. This leads to smooth muscle relaxation and vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), following the relaxation of the smooth muscle in the vessel wall. Garlic supplements can achieve these effects efficiently without the bad breath compared to raw garlic.

5. Lowers Heart Disease Risk

Garlic can help lower the risk of heart disease by lowering total LDL cholesterol. A 2000 study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found the effect of garlic on total cholesterol level in people with elevated levels moderately reduced cholesterol levels. Vandana Sheth, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics told Medical Daily in an email that this is achieved by “diminishing the activity of main cholesterol-producing enzyme in the liver.” Garlic supplements can enhance the body’s ability to dissolve blood clots that would otherwise increase the risk of heart attacks by closing the arteries.

6. Enhances Physical Performance

Garlic can help increase exercise capacity and reduce exercise-induced fatigue. “[G]arlic has a long history of being used in ancient cultures to reduce fatigue and enhance the work capacity of laborers,” Ficek said. Garlic oil has been shown to improve the exercise capacity of people with heart disease. A 2005 study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found participants with heart disease who took garlic oil for six weeks saw a reduction in peak heart rate by 12 percent. This was accompanied by an improvement in their physical endurance during a treadmill exercise.

7. Improves Bone Health

The alkalizing vegetable is filled with bone-healthy nutrients such as zinc, manganese, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. Risa Groux, a holistic nutritionist and ChazzLIVE expert told Medical Daily in an email: “Garlic is really high in manganese, which contains enzymes and antioxidants that facilitates the formation of bones and connective tissues, bone metabolism, and calcium absorption.”

Garlic may help reduce bone loss through the increase of estrogen in females. A 2007 study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research found garlic oil was able to preserve the skeletal health of rodents when under a hypogonadal situation. In other words, garlic contains nutrients that act as building blocks for healthy, strong bones.

Garlic can be a flavorful addition to your dish and also double as a valuable aid to your health.