It may not smell like a lily, but Garlic (Allium sativum) is an edible bulb from the lily family. Fondly known to herbalists as “the stinking rose,” there has been many traditional medicine uses, including treatment of skin conditions, immune support, antimicrobial and, to reduce risk for cancer and heart disease.

Garlic contains several vitamins and minerals that support heart health, including vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, and selenium. But it’s the chemicals that give it its pungent odor that scientists believe are the source of the herb’s heart health-promoting effects. Garlic is rich in the allicin, alliin, and ajoene — antioxidant compounds that help reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Studies on the bulb and the cardiovascular system typically use garlic powder, oil, or aged extracts. To date, the effects of garlic on the heart that are supported by science include:

  • Slows the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Reduces triglycerides and therefore lowers total cholesterol

The amount of active compounds supplied by supplements can vary because allicin is very sensitive to things such as air and heat. For example, aging garlic to reduce its odor also reduces the allicin present and compromises the effectiveness of the product.

While generally safe for most women, taking a supplement can cause heartburn, upset stomach, an allergic reaction, and breath and body odor (common with raw garlic) and should not be taken by persons who are preparing for surgery or who have bleeding disorders because it can impair the body’s ability to form blood clots.