The vegetables in the genus Allium are full of medicinal properties and have been used as such for thousands of years. This group of foods includes leeks, onions, scallions, shallots, and chives.
While all these have benefits, there is one that stands out from all the others. It qualifies for that overused term “super food” because it’s packed with such potent antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties…
And there’s plenty of specific proof that it’s good for brain health and cognition.
Read on to discover this amazing, fragrant vegetable, and how it can protect your brain and memory from the ravages of dementia.
I just called it fragrant but some may prefer to just call it smelly. I’m talking about garlic.
Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used for centuries as both food and medicine. According to some sources, Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” himself, recommended garlic for treating respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion and fatigue.
Garlic can help blood flow to the brain
Garlic is rich in an organosulfer compound called allicin, which is part of what gives garlic its power. Allicin is also responsible for garlic’s pungent odor when crushed or chewed.
The good news is that if you don’t like the taste of garlic or have a problem digesting it, a study published in The Journal of Nutrition finds than an antioxidant-rich aged garlic extract (AGE) can provide many of the same benefits.
According to the study, AGE is a standardized and highly bioavailable supplement produced from extracting and aging organic garlic at room temperature. The process converts the “difficult” aspects of allicin into something more palatable, while keeping a high level of antioxidants and organosulfer compounds.
The same study found that AGE increased microcirculation, which helped blood flow more freely. This means garlic can reduce the risk of vascular dementia, a non-Alzheimer’s type of dementia that happens when neurons die due to insufficient blood flow to the brain.
Reduce your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease at the same time
The compounds in garlic have been proven to reduce risk factors for heart disease, many of which also contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Garlic has been shown to:
- Lower cholesterol (high cholesterol is associated with elevated beta-amyloid plaques)
- Lower homocysteine levels
- Reduce blood pressure and hypertension
- Soothe chronic inflammation
- Destroy free radicals to reduce oxidative damage1
Garlic can prevent cognitive decline
In addition to those benefits, AGE shows brain-specific benefits such as protecting neurons from apoptosis and beta-amyloid neurotoxicity, which “may help prevent cognitive decline… and improve learning and memory retention.”2
A study published in Current Medicinal Chemistry found that S-allyl-L-cysteine (SAC), an active compound in AGE, can prevent the neuroinflammation that leads to the death of synapses.3 Keeping synapses healthy is essential to preventing memory loss and cognitive decline.
An in vitro study published in Phytotherapy Research found that a raw garlic extract could inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, prompting researchers to conclude that “consumption of garlic may lead to inhibition of beta-amyloid aggregation in the human brain.”4
A mouse study performed in Tokyo on the effects of AGE found the ones that received garlic had brains that aged slower than the control group.
AGE-fed mice had more brain matter overall, showed better memory and learning, and had less atrophy in the frontal lobe. Maintaining frontal lobe integrity can help reduce the risk of developing frontotemporal dementia.
The researchers concluded that AGE “prevents physiological aging and may be beneficial for age-related cognitive disorders in humans.”5
Garlic stops overactive brain “janitors”
There’s yet another chemical in garlic, beside allicin and SAC. It’s a carbohydrate derivative known as FruArg. Studies show FruArg can stop overactive microglia cells brought on by chronic inflammation.
Microglial cells are the “janitors” of the central nervous system. Under normal conditions, they come in and “sweep away” damaged or dying neurons and cells, leaving room for new cells to grow.
But chronic inflammation causes the microglia to become too active, which produces too much nitric oxide. This in turn causes neuronal damage, setting the victim up for neurodegeneration, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
However, a study performed at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, Missouri found that FruArg from garlic extract soothed neuroinflammation and reduced nitric oxide production. The nutrient works by regulating the expression of proteins in the brain associated with oxidative stress.6
Getting the benefits of garlic
If you already enjoy eating garlic, don’t stop! When cooking with it, you’ll retain more nutrients by adding it at the end of the dish. High heat breaks down the beneficial compounds.
Crushed raw garlic is great in uncooked dishes like homemade pesto sauce, hummus and salad dressings. You’ll get the brain- and heart-healthy compounds and flavor without the overpowering experience of eating a raw clove. It’s necessary to crush or chew the garlic to release allicin. Whole garlic cloves will give you less of this precious nutrient.
If you dislike the taste or smell of garlic, or if it upsets your stomach, the AGE supplement is a great way to get the benefits without the smelly “side effects.”
- Garlic reduces dementia and heart-disease risk.
- Garlic reduces dementia and heart-disease risk.
- The “Aged Garlic Extract” (AGE) and one of its active ingredients S-Allyl-LCysteine (SAC) as potential preventive and therapeutic agents for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
- Garlic extract exhibits antiamyloidogenic activity on amyloid-beta fibrillogenesis: relevance to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Anti-aging effect of aged garlic extract in the inbred brain atrophy mouse model.
- Proteomic analysis of the effects of aged garlic extract and its FruArg component on lipopolysaccharide-induced neuroinflammatory response in microglial cells.