Research suggests that garlic can help make small improvements in blood pressure by increasing the blood flow to the capillaries, which are the tiniest blood vessels. The chemicals in garlic achieve this by causing the capillary walls to open wider and reducing the ability of blood platelets to stick together and cause blockages.
Reductions are small -- 10 mmHg (millimeters of mercury, the unit of measurement for blood pressure) or less. This means if your blood pressure is 130 over 90 mmHg, garlic might help lower it to 120 over 80 mmHg. That's a slight improvement, but, along with some simple lifestyle adjustments, such as getting more exercise, garlic might help move your blood pressure out of the danger zone.
Preliminary studies indicate that garlic may also increase the production of nitric oxide. This chemical compound is produced in the lining of blood vessels, and it helps the vessels relax and allow blood to flow more freely.
Research published in August 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that some of the sulfur-rich compounds in garlic help the blood vessels relax and enlarge, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow throughout the body.
The Bottom Line: Garlic and Heart Health
Garlic seems to deserve a spot on the battlefield in the fight against heart disease. Even if its lipid-lowering abilities are less extensive than once thought, it appears that garlic's antioxidant ability helps protect arteries from plaque formation and eventual blockage. Because garlic also appears to increase the nitric oxide in vessels and lower your blood pressure, it becomes even more valuable.
Cholesterol and oxidation aren't the only bad guys that garlic keeps out of the body. On the next page you'll learn how nature's bouncer fights off viruses, as well.
With all this talk about heart disease, you might get confused by some of the terms we've used. Here's a handy glossary you can refer to:
- Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature garlic.
- Nutrition: Find out how garlic fits in with your overall nutrition plans.
- Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
- Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.