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What Are Garlic Enzymes?

By Synthia L. Rose
Updated Feb 09, 2024
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Garlic enzymes are scientifically known as alliinase enzymes. These enzymes convert alliin, an amino acid in garlic, to allicin, a phytochemical cited for lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and strengthening the immune system. Alliinase enzymes only become active when released through the slicing, chewing, chopping or crushing of garlic. Thought to be the most powerful components of garlic, garlic enzymes are responsible for giving the vegetable its signature flavor and scent.

Overwhelmingly present in the oil released from garlic, garlic enzymes are dormant inside the membranes of garlic cells until garlic is manipulated. Slicing and crushing destroy the membranes, unleashing the enzymes. Heating and cooking have the opposite effect and may kill the majority of enzymes in garlic.

Besides whole, fresh garlic, garlic enzymes are available in four supplement options: garlic oil macerate, garlic extract, garlic essential oil taken from ground garlic, and garlic powder made from ground, dried garlic. The latter is a common spice. A few studies, however, contest that garlic enzymes in supplements are ineffective. Only the extract supplement form, when applied topically, has been shown to have some benefit in lab studies.

In the realm of health, enzymes from garlic are considered bactericides, capable of killing harmful bacteria strains. For this reason, garlic has been used to treat strep throat and other infections. Some studies suggest these enzymes can also kill viruses; this knowledge has encouraged the use of garlic by patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The use of garlic enzymes for treatment of at least five types of cancer remains the most common health use of garlic. High consumption of garlic can purportedly prevent or reverse colon and stomach cancer, according to medical data. Malignant tumors in the esophagus, breast and pancreas are also responsive to garlic. Studies show that the benefits of the enzymes do not arise with isolated enzymes, but only when alliinase is in the presence of other phytochemicals in garlic, such as alliin and allicin. Due to this, many believe the best way to consume enzymes is by regular consumption of the whole garlic clove; health advocates suggest a dose of one clove per day.

Several theories have arisen in the medical community to explain the impact garlic enzymes have on cancer. One theory is that the enzymes and other chemicals in garlic suppress the activity of carcinogens. Another theory is that garlic can stop cancer cells from multiplying and repair damaged cells so that they are healthy again. An additional theory is that the intake of garlic causes cancer tissue to die.

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