Garlic vs. the Flu? Follow King Tut’s Example

Ancient Egypt held garlic in high esteem. There were actually several bulbs of garlic found in King Tut’s tomb from 1352 B.C. The author of “The Complete Book of Garlic,” Ted Meredith, describes both that archeological find — and subsequent history:

There, along with gold and lapis lazuli artifacts, were six dried garlic bulbs. . . . The Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, recorded his visit to the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) at Giza, Egypt, and an inscription he saw describing the quantities of radishes, onions, and garlic consumed by the workers who built the pyramid.

Were King Tut and his fellow ancients onto something we can use during this flu season? Certainly the pagan Egyptians weren’t alone in thinking highly of garlic, says physician and garlic expert Dr. Gary Huber:

The ancient Israelites were fond of garlic long before Moses led them out of Egypt. In the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish traditions incorporated into the Talmud, the ancient Hebrew writers refer to themselves as “the garlic eaters.” In the Bible (Numbers 11:5), still on their way to the Promised Land, the Jews lamented the absence of garlic, as well as other foods from Egypt.

With garlic’s venerable history and modern scientific investigation in its favor, garlic may well have an impact on:

1) keeping the flu at bay,

2) lessening the impact following the onset of infection, and

3) reducing the risk of tag-along or opportunistic infections.

Indeed, garlic has many beneficial properties, one of which is its role as an antimicrobial. What does that mean? An antimicrobial agent may be antibiotic (against bacteria), antifungal (against fungus), antiparasitic (against parasites), antiviral (against viruses) or may fight more than one of these microbes. With garlic, it’s all four.

The fact that garlic makes up a quartet of antimicrobial actions is significant because that qualifies garlic as rather unique. But how strong is garlic specifically against the flu so it could qualify as a replacement for the shot?

Given that the flu shot is increasingly being recognized as nearly (or completely) worthless in stopping the influenza virus, garlic becomes more attractive. Alas, the shot’s pedigree is tainted.

Every year the great and unfounded clamor goes up about getting your flu shot. Both the government’s attempt to hold onto their reputation and expropriation of taxpayer money, in part, help keep the whole leaky boat afloat. Many drug companies, physicians, and pharmacies are also making money from the deal. The news media profit by scaring us into getting the shot for which they often appear to be unpaid public relations hacks.

So wouldn’t garlic be an inexpensive answer, an end-around play? Certainly garlic qualifies as a supermarket bargain, yet there are pros and cons to the versatile plant’s role as a solution.

A 1992 study looked at substances found in garlic as well as garlic extracts. How much did they knock off a number of viruses in the test tube? The compounds showed they could kill all the viruses tested quite effectively, but there were no influenza viruses examined. Still we might expect specific anti-flu benefits from garlic’s known properties — but the research just isn’t there yet.

Dr. Gary Huber, a physician and expert on garlic, weighs in on the controversy:

Currently, there are at least five different forms of garlic that are widely marketed. Whole fresh garlic is rich in alliin (converted to allicin when garlic is chopped) and ajoene, the two chemical constituents thought to be most important to health. A daily dose of 1 to 3 cloves of whole fresh garlic is needed to promote health. . . . So, is garlic beneficial to your health? Most likely it is, if we can learn anything from this long medicinal history. But, remember that the vast majority of positive observations of the past were based on the consumption of fresh whole garlic and plenty of it, at that!

So I decided to try out this idea of eating 1 to 3 cloves of fresh whole garlic. Obviously I wouldn’t see some instantaneous increase in my health or bolts of electricity flowing from my finger tips to zap flu viruses out of the air. But was consuming raw garlic doable? Could I man up to do this on a regular basis — or even once?

I separated a clove from a bulb, cut the ends off the clove, and then peeled off the outer layer. After popping the clove into a garlic press, I scraped off the crushed result from the bottom of the press with a spoon and put the garlic in my mouth to chew. Crazy, huh?

Within seconds, the garlic was hot in my mouth and increasingly uncomfortable. Having anticipated that result, I consumed a few almonds and drank some water close at hand. That cleared out the burn pretty well.

Twenty minutes later that morning, I tried it again. The third time came in the early evening, bringing me to Dr. Huber’s upper limit of three. Actually I felt no lasting effects at the end of the day — except I could tell I reeked considerably. My wife wasn’t entirely fond of my aroma. Perhaps if she had some Italian heritage, there would have been no problem!

Will I continue to perform this bizarre ritual? Perhaps enhancing the experience by adding some war paint to my face and feathers of our state bird to my hair would help? If not, Dr. Huber definitely gives me some incentive:

Multiple scientific studies indicate that garlic can lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels, improve the outcome of coronary heart disease, reduce high blood pressure, improve claudication (leg muscle cramps on exertion), prolong infant feeding time for breast nursing, reduce or cure the fungal infection of Athlete’s foot, and reverse some middle ear inflammation. And, it can do much more. There may even be some value, in addition, for garlic in the potential reductions of certain cancers, especially those of the colon and stomach.

In the mean time, there’s some evidence that garlic powder and garlic oil as supplements have some health benefits — without going the challenging fresh route. And perhaps you just want to continue cooking with it for the flavor?

But know this. If both you and your wife eat garlic, you’ll be less likely to be offended by the bothersome breath from consuming Allium sativum. And you may well enjoy a longer, healthier life together.

Perhaps you’ll even have some increased immunity to fight the flu and other microbes. At least you’ll save some time and money by knowing those highly promoted injections aren’t what they’re cracked up to be — while garlic continues its ancient legacy.