Many people know that whole garlic bulbs are a powerful natural antibiotic because they are a primary source of allicin. A good share of these same folks, however, do not realize how to best harness its anti-microbial superpowers!
Alliin. Allicin Precursor
Fresh or fermented garlic cloves contain the powerful organosulfur compound alliin (S-allyl cysteine sulfoxide).
Onions, shallots, Chinese chives, and leeks also contain it, but at lower amounts.
When intact and undisturbed inside each clove, alliin has no pungency.
When the tissue of the garlic is disrupted in any way as in crushing or chopping, the enzyme alliinase is released to interact with the alliin.
The enzymatic hydrolysis that immediately occurs rapidly produces the odorous substance we know as allicin. (1)
Allicin has three characteristics that make it an important tool in natural wellness protocols. This includes benefits for simple at-home use as well as more complex cases treated clinically by practitioners.
- Allicin is a natural antifungal, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic and anti-viral substance. No single pharmaceutical drug has this same broad spectrum anti-microbial benefit. (2)
- Pathogenic microbes don’t seem to be able to develop resistance to allicin over time, unlike conventional medications. (3)
- Ingestion of allicin does not harm beneficial gut microbes or reduce their diversity, unlike many pharmaceutical drugs. In fact, initial research suggests that ingestion of garlic acts as a prebiotic, increasing microbial richness and diversity with a marked increase in the beneficial and immune stimulating bacteria, Lactobacillus and Clostridia species. These changes occur within a 3-month period. (4)
Allicin has even proven helpful in the fight against superbugs. It is sometimes deployed to treat MRSA when antibiotics fail.
Reaping Maximum Allicin Benefits
Simple peeling of a garlic clove will definitely release some allicin.
However, swallowing this same garlic clove whole is not the best way to reap maximum anti-microbial benefits.
The best way to maximize the allicin in each garlic clove is to crush it and leave at room temperature for 15 minutes before consuming. (5)
This allows sufficient time for the enzyme alliinase to fully transform the alliin into allicin. Note that alliinase can be inhibited by digestive juices in the intestinal tract, so waiting for a few minutes before eating is very important!
According to Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, you can consume up to a whole head of garlic per day. This amount would ideally be spread throughout the day to assist with recovery from illness or other therapeutic purposes.
Dr. Campbell-McBride also suggests this method for making allicin infused oil for external use.
- Crush a clove of garlic and mix with 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
- Let sit for 30 minutes.
- Strain out the garlic pieces and apply the allicin-infused oil where needed.
This remedy is especially useful for middle ear infections treated at home including swimmers ear.
Heat Destroys Allicin
Is it a good idea to let chopped, minced or crushed garlic sit out for a few minutes even if you plan to cook the garlic?
Yes, it is, but the benefits will be less.
Allinase is destroyed once the garlic is heated above 117 °F/ 47 °C for wet heat and 150 °F/ 66 °C for dry heat. These are the temperature ranges that destroy food enzymes.
Unfortunately, heating, microwaving or boiling garlic also deactivates the allicin!
However, the sulfur compounds created by the interaction of alliinase and alliin remain.
So, while there are no anti-microbial properties from consuming cooked garlic, you will still get the nutritional benefit of the sulfur compounds that were created. (6)
Thus, maximizing these sulfur compounds before cooking is a wise practice.
This is especially true since sulfur deficiency is widespread!
The biggest potential side effect of consuming lots of allicin charged garlic cloves is digestive distress.
Those with IBS or other conditions where short chain carbohydrates are not well absorbed by the small intestine (aka FODMAP) seem to be most prone to have problems.
In those situations, taking a buffered garlic supplement might work instead. This brand is excellent.
Two to three capsules per day meet the suggested dosage according to the second edition of the book Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy. This resource recommends consuming allicin-releasing garlic tablets to provide a minimum of 12/mg (12,000 mcg) per day of alliin. (7)
While my family has experienced excellent results (for decades) using a buffered garlic supplement, others do better on a pure allicin formula such as Allimax.
Should You Take Allicin with Food?
You should ideally take allicin supplements or raw garlic cloves with a meal or at least a snack.
This will reduce the chances of any digestive upset.
(1, 7) Alliin: An Overview
(2) Garlic: A Review of Potential Therapeutic Benefits
(3) Fresh Garlic Extract Enhances the Antimicrobial Activities of Antibiotics on Resistant Strains
(4) The Effect of Aged Garlic on Gut Microbiota
(5) Unlocking the Benefits of Garlic
(6) The Influence of Heating on the Anti-Cancer Properties of Garlic
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.