Sometimes eating healthy stinks....literally: Garlic, onions and prostate health

Does your man have bad breath after a zesty dinner with garlic and onion? If you love him, get over it.

Despite their arguably unpleasant aroma, these allium vegetables’ nutritional benefits and unique taste compensate for their adverse side effect.

Acting as staple ingredients in various cultural cuisines, these vegetables tend to dominate the flavor profile of the dish they integrate. The number of vegetable species belonging to the allium group is vast, with their most notable members being leeks, scallions, onion and garlic.

Their use for medicinal purposes premiered in ancient Chinese, Indian, and Egyptian cultures. While not all nutritional claims have stood the test of time, many have been proven effective through research and have prompted further investigation. Their alimentative qualities in regard to improving cardiovascular health and reducing one’s risk of all-site cancers are well documented, especially among cancers effecting reproductive and digestive organs.

Recently, researchers have taken an interest in allium vegetables’ role in boosting the health of a male’s prostate, therefore reducing his risk of inflammation, benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate), and cancer. Complications of these conditions range from mild yet annoying, such as difficulty with urination, all the way to deadly. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2015 it is estimated that 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. This alarming statistic has caught the attention of medical professionals, bringing dietary habits into the limelight in hopes of identifying methods of prevention.

Garlic and onion have extensively been studied, and have shown promising results. A 2013 meta-analysis published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention assessed the relationship between allium vegetable intake and risk of developing prostate cancer among men. In total, 9 research articles were reviewed, and the paper concluded that allium vegetable intake, specifically garlic, was indeed related to a decreased risk for prostate cancer (1). Although weaknesses within the meta-analysis are cited, such as the accuracy of dietary recalls and the small number of studies reviewed, it still gives justification for ongoing research.

Interestingly enough, the science behind garlic and onion’s offensive stench is also thought to be a secret weapon for protecting prostate health. These vegetables contain organic compounds with sulfur attached. Yes, sulfur, the same thing that causes eggs to smell rotten. 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 that are trying to reproduce at a rapid pace. At this time, positive results have been seen in rats, but more research is needed to identify how much of these compounds are needed 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 (2). Reason enough to include garlic and onions in your favorite recipes. As for how to do this, the most beneficial way is to crush or slice the vegetables first, then wait 10 to 15 minutes prior to cooking. This allows time for the powerful, new compounds to form, and not be killed off right away in the heat of the cooking process.

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 multifactorial, and their high flavonoid and antioxidant content is surely a principle contributor (3).  These compounds are dynamic cell preservers. In combination with a diet including a wide variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, these vegetables work to promote optimal health.

How much garlic and onion one needs to consume in order to reap the benefits is still being studied, but a degree of insight has been provided. 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 there would also be benefit, but a higher daily dose is likely needed (4).

Next time you devour an allium vegetable-filled dish, don’t be agitated by the unpleasant aroma that lingers, but rather embrace it. It is a reminder that the vegetable are doing its job to enhance your health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1)     Allium vegetables and risk of prostate cancer: Evidence from 132,192 subjects. Xiao-Feng Zhou, Zhen-Shan Ding, Nai-Bo Lui. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention. 2013

2) Center for Disease Control. Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Found at: http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_disease.htm

3) Hedges, L.J., Lister, C.E. The Nutrition Attributes of Allium Species. Crop and Food Research Confidential Report No. 1814. Found at: http://www.vegetables.co.nz/resources/1files/pdf/booklet_onion_leek_garlic_foodreport.pdf

4) Galland, Leo. "Surprising Health Benefits of Garlic and Onions." Huffington Post: Healthy Living. Found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leo-galland-md/health-benefits-garlic_b_900784.html