When COVID-19 began spreading around the globe, I heard from a friend in Armenia that garlic had disappeared from the market shelves.
She said that in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, the home remedy for COVID-19 most recommended on the streets was “vodka and garlic!”
I’m not sure about the curative powers of vodka. But is garlic good for your immune system and, more specifically, Covid-19? Over the past year, a small handful of researchers addressed this question.
In a peer-reviewed Letter to the Editor of the BMC Nutrition Journal, an international group of researchers suggested that an improved “nutritional pattern” could be a successful strategy for battling the pandemic.
They recommended garlic as “one of the most efficient natural antibiotics” against various bacteria and viruses.
Another article published as a medical hypothesis specifically mentioned garlic’s immune-system boosting benefits to prevent COVID-19.
However, when the World Health Organization (WHO) weighed in, it was to add the herb to their “Mythbusters” page with this statement:
“Eating garlic does NOT prevent COVID-19.”
This graphic underscored their point:
There have been no clinical trials, epidemiological studies, or basic research published on garlic and COVID-19. All I could find are the above-cited Letter to the Editor and medical hypothesis.
The WHO correctly stated that “no evidence” for its effectiveness exists regarding the current coronavirus outbreak. SO…
Looking Beyond COVID-19… “Is Garlic Good for Your Immune System?”
Let’s look at the research.
I found two studies in particular that probed garlic’s use as an immune-function enhancer:
- A randomized, double-blind trial published in 2019 involved 42 peritoneal dialyses (PD) patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD).
Inflammation is an immune-system response to harmful stimuli, but for people with ESRD, inflammation can be deadly.
The trial’s researchers separated the patients into two groups. For eight weeks, one group took a daily 400-mg dose of garlic extract. The other group took a placebo (fake pills).
Those receiving the garlic extract experienced a “significant reduction” in inflammation markers.
The positive results led the researchers to observe that as a “safe and well-tolerated natural” ingredient, garlic is suitable for prescribing to lower inflammation in PD patients.
- Further, a July 2020 review from Italian and Spanish researchers cited several studies on garlic’s immune-system benefits.
The review referred to a remarkable randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-intervention study in which 120 healthy adults aged 21 to 50 years took supplements for three months during cold and flu season.
Half the group consumed 2.56 aged garlic extract (AGE) every day, and half took a placebo (fake pill) supplement.
By the mid-way point, the garlic group was seeing positive results when compared to the placebo group. After testing multiple factors, the researchers found increased numbers and activity in their:
- Natural killer cells (NK cells), the immune system’s first responders.
- Gamma delta (γδ) T cells, involved in launching and boosting the immune response and promoting cell healing and tissue repair.
Cold and Flu Severity: The Garlic Difference
By the study’s conclusion, both groups had come down with the same number of colds. However, the garlic group’s colds were noticeably less severe than those of the placebo group.
- Sixty-one percent fewer days sick
- Twenty-one percent fewer symptoms
- Fifty-eight percent fewer missed work and/or school days
- Fifty-eight percent fewer days of having cold and flu symptoms alter their daily routines.
With fewer than half the days spent sick, missing school or work, or having their normal routines disturbed – garlic was the clear winner!
Based on these results, the researchers surmised that garlic supplementation could “enhance immune cell function,” as well as reduce the reported severity of flu and cold symptoms.
Their review mentions more studies that also answered the question, “Is garlic good for your immune system?”
For example, this systematic review and meta-analysis from 2019 looked at 16 different randomized controlled trials (RCT) investigating garlic’s immune system effects.
It concluded that “Garlic administration significantly reduced serum C-reactive protein.” In other words, its inflammation-lowering properties make garlic good for your immune system.
Now, back to that vodka and garlic!
In the pandemic’s early days, Americans hoarded toilet paper. I suggest that Armenians hoarding garlic were displaying a bit more intelligence.
However, with no specific research, garlic’s effect on COVID-19 is unknown.
What you can say, based on available scientific evidence, is that garlic is good for your immune system!
And these days, who doesn’t want a stronger immune system?