When my son came down with a terrible headache and the beginning of a rasping cough, my daughter-in-law strode into the kitchen and made him her well-known concoction for colds and flu: pressed garlic, minced ginger, honey and hot water.
"Maybe some Tylenol would help him as well," I suggested.
"This will do," she said. "Trust me."
And she was right. The next morning, he was on his feet, bright, alert and symptom-free.
His quick recovery comes as no surprise to me. Ginger and garlic have been for centuries the most popular of home remedies. Closer inspection reveals why they work so well and why, in straightforward cases of colds and flu, they are perhaps even better alternatives than over the counter prescriptions.
Ginger has been used as both seasoning and medicine for over 50 years. During the Middle Ages, it was used against the plague. Today, it is used for ailments that run from simple colds and sniffles to rheumatoid arthritis.
Its effectiveness against headaches has been documented. Taken at the first sign of migraine, ginger can reduce the symptoms and severity of headaches by blocking prostaglandins--the chemicals that cause inflammation in blood vessels in the brain. This anti-inflammatory activity in ginger can shorten the discomfort of headaches, colds and flu.
As well, ginger blocks the production of substances that cause bronchial congestion and stuffiness. Its main compounds, gingerols, are natural cough suppressants.
It works as well to reduce joint swellings in people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. A recent study found that ginger eased the symptoms in 55 percent of people with osteoarthritis and 74 percent of those with rheumatoid arthritis. Considering the health implications of drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex, ginger seems a much safer and more cost-effective alternative.
Ginger works like aspirin to thin the blood. A study involving Danish women between the ages of 25 to 65 years, one group of whom consumed 70 grams of raw onion daily while a second group consumed 5 grams of ginger daily for one week, showed unequivocally the benefits of ginger. When the researchers tested both groups of women, they found that ginger, more clearly than onion, reduced thromboxane production by almost 60 percent. Thromboxane compounds stimulate the clumping of blood platelets and the constricting of blood vessels. By dissolving the clumping quality of blood platelets, ginger reduces blood clots and the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
But this is not all! Ginger can also relieve menstrual cramps. Chemical compounds in ginger act as anti-spasmodics inhibiting painful contractions of both smooth muscles of the digestive tract and the uterus.
Garlic is no less powerful. The restorative powers of garlic have been known to the ancient Egyptians who gave garlic to slaves constructing the pyramids in order to increase their efficiency and stamina.
Garlic, like ginger, reduces the tendency of blood to clot. Garlic improves blood flow throughout the body, not just in the coronary arteries. It acts as a vasodilator by causing blood vessels to expand and blood pressure to drop. Researchers at the Garlic Research Bureau in Suffolk, England, recently reported that "even small amounts of Garlic, say 3 or 4 grams, will have a pronounced effect on fibrinolytic (breaking down of blood clots) activity...in doses from 25 grams ( 10 cloves) to 50 grams Garlic seems to be highly effective in promoting beneficial changes in blood fat composition and platelet adhesiveness."
It also lowers cholesterol, tryglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels while also increasing the beneficial cholesterol HDL.
And it has anti-tumor properties. Garlic oil inhibits enzymes that curtail the production of protaglandins ( many cancers are prostaglandin dependent). Research in China also shows an inverse relationship between the incidence of stomach cancer and garlic intake. Studies even suggest that garlic may lower the risk of colon cancer by 35 percent and stomach cancer by as much as 50 percent. Garlic inhibits the formation of nitrites, chemicals that could trigger stomach cancer. There is also laboratory evidence that garlic can shrink cancers of the breast, skin and lungs.
One more thing-- garlic's essential oil is excreted through the lungs, which means that it is particularly effective for clearing respiratory ailments.
No wonder my son made such a rapid recovery. He took the kids tobogganing down the hill, returning all of them later that afternoon, cheeks red and happy.
"No more sniffles?" I asked him.
"I feel great!" he said. "That stuff Paulina makes--it works every time!"