Garlic: Pleiotropic Health Benefits from a Toxic Gas
Garlic, a supplement and a food that is known for a few things: tasting good on a pizza, giving you bad breath, warding off vampires, and being a miracle food with endless. Garlic has been in use by humans for thousands of years and much has been learned anecdotally and scientifically during that time.
Garlic, a supplement and a food that is known for a few things: tasting good on a pizza, giving you bad breath, warding off vampires, and being a miracle food with endless. Garlic has been in use by humans for thousands of years and much has been learned anecdotally and scientifically during that time. However, the study of garlic from a chemical standpoint is actually a bit difficult since the molecules that make up garlic degrade and change quite rapidly making it difficult to pinpoint ‘which’ molecule is the best one.
That being said, we don’t really need to isolate the best bioactive molecule since we can isolate the best ‘effect’ of the supplement. In other words, what the heck does garlic do after you ingest it?
In answering that question, an entirely new signalling pathway that affects the entire body had to be researched. Perhaps many of you have heard of ‘nitric oxide’ (NO) before since it is good for heart health, muscular pumps, and erections? Now it’s time to meet its sister molecule, hydrogen sulfide (H2S).
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is known as a gasotransmitter, which seems like a really fake name but is used to describe things in the human body that serve as signalling molecules and just happen to also be gases. There are three major ones known: nitric oxide (quite popular for heart health), hydrogen sulfide (topic of discussion), and carbon monoxide (also a toxic gas, but it is not known if screwing with the carbon monoxide in your body is a good thing to do or not).
Garlic increases hydrogen sulfide through sulfur release
As mentioned earlier, the molecules in garlic are fairly unstable and change from one to another quite readily. This instability actually holds up in the body, and it seems that these molecules (there are many molecules in garlic that adhere to the following) can either be used by an enzyme to liberate sulfur or they just degrade and release sulfur. The sulfur then combines with free hydrogen to form hydrogen sulfide.
Garlic provides sulfur to the body to fulfill our body’s ‘sulfur requirement’. It sort of parallels how vitamins work in that there is a certain amount to take daily to ensure optimal functioning. Similarly, good things happen when you have good ‘sulfur status’; garlic is just an easy way to get our sulfur.
From toxic gas and egg farts to a cardioprotective fat burner
So what does hydrogen sulfide do?
- It activates potassium channels, which directly relaxes blood vessels
- It releases some nitric oxide which then goes and does nitric oxide things (also resulting in blood vessel relaxation)
Hydrogen sulfide has a few other impressive benefits:
- Activates a channel in the body (TRPA1) that causes noradrenaline to be released, resulting a small boost to fat loss
- May, over time, cause white fat to turn to brown fat which actually complements the aforementioned fat burning
- Although it releases noradrenaline, it protects the heart tissue from said noradrenaline (excessive levels of which cause cardiac hypertrophy)
Health benefits of garlic consumption have been seen with a dose as low as a clove a day; in fact, consuming 0.5-1 cloves twice a day (first and last meal) is an incredibly cost-effective yet beneficial way to protect your heart and promote fat loss.
Garlic is perhaps the cheapest yet most well researched way to provide a pool of sulfur to the body.
While the potency of hydrogen sulfide is not ‘drug like’ by any means, it is a modest and positive push towards treating the two most common causes of morbidity and mortality in the western world (obesity and CVD, respectively).
All because it makes a ‘toxic gas’ in your body.
Image Source: wikimedia commons
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