Why “Garlic Breath” Is a Sign of Good Health for Men

Garlic good for health
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Does your husband, boyfriend, brother, son or father have bad breath after a zesty dinner made with garlic and onions? If that’s the case, it may be bad for his dinner companions, but great news for his health!

Despite their potent aroma, garlic and onions — part of a vast family of vegetables called alliums, which also includes leeks and scallions — have nutritional benefits and unique tastes that compensate for their adverse effect on breath odor.

Alliums have been used medicinally for centuries in Chinese, Indian and Egyptian cultures. And, while not every nutritional claim has stood the test of time, research actually has proven alliums to be effective at improving cardiovascular health and reducing risk of all-site cancers (especially those cancers effecting reproductive and digestive organs).

Recently, researchers have taken an interest in allium vegetables’ role in boosting prostate health and preventing prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. A 2013 meta-analysis of nine research articles published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention concluded that allium vegetable intake, specifically garlic, was related to a decreased risk for prostate cancer. Although the meta-analysis cited weaknesses in its own design (such as the accuracy of dietary recalls and the small number of studies reviewed), it still gives justification for ongoing research.

Interestingly, garlic and onion’s offensive stench is also thought to be its secret weapon. These vegetables contain organic compounds with sulfur attached. Yes, sulfur, the same element that causes rotten eggs to smell. When garlic or onion is chopped, the compounds are activated and a smell is produced. Currently, researchers are looking into how these compounds may help kill off prostate cancer cells. At this time, positive results have been seen in rats, but more research is needed to identify how much of these compounds are required to have an effect on humans.

What is widely accepted is these stinky offenders’ ability to help reduce platelet aggregation in the body, and, therefore, reduce the risk of blood clotting and heart disease. As of 2009, heart disease was noted as being responsible for 1 in every 4 male deaths in the United States.

The organic sulfur compounds do not stand alone when working to keep a body in tip-top shape. The exact mechanism that makes allium vegetables so powerful is likely complex, and their high flavonoid and antioxidant content is surely a principal contributor. These compounds are dynamic cell preservers. In combination with a diet that includes a wide variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, alliums work to promote optimal health.

Exactly how much garlic and onion one needs to consume in order to reap the benefits is unknown, but a study conducted at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that eating a teaspoon of fresh garlic and a half cup of onions each day raised levels of key enzymes used for removing toxins in the blood cells of healthy women. Although the amount needed for men has not yet been directly studied, the authors believe men would also benefit, but, more than likely, at a higher daily dose.

Or, you can just use them in cooking. Crush or slice the vegetables first, then let them sit 10 to 15 minutes before cooking. This resting time allows for powerful new compounds to form and not be killed off right away in the heat of the cooking process.

Next time you devour a garlicky and oniony dish, don’t be agitated by the unpleasant aroma that lingers. Rather, embrace it! The bad breath is a reminder that the allium vegetables are enhancing your health.

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Bethany Oxender
Bethany Oxender, MS, RDN, is a clinical dietitian based in Ann Arbor, MI, specializing in weight management. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram and read her blog, Bethany Grey.