Garlic... bad on the nose but good on the heart!

According to the latest research it is the smelly ingredient in garlic that is good for your health.

That smelly ingredient is a chemical called allicin which is responsible for the bulb's antisocial reputation but researchers say it acts as a chemical messenger in the body that protects the heart.

The researchers at the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Alabama, Birmingham believe their findings help explain some of the health benefits that have been attributed to garlic for hundreds of years.

Allicin is used by the red blood cells to improve blood flow in the body; it breaks down into sulphur-containing compounds, one, hydrogen sulphide, generates a smell of rotten eggs but it has a vital role in cell signalling.

The compound acts as a chemical messenger that tells the cells that form blood vessel walls to relax, causing the vessels to dilate; this reduces blood pressure and allows the blood to carry more oxygen to essential organs.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart disease.

The scientists found that when red blood cells were exposed to minute amounts of juice extracted from ordinary garlic they immediately began emitting hydrogen sulphide and the chemical reaction took place mainly on the surface of the blood cells.

The researchers led by Dr. David Kraus suggest that hydrogen sulphide production in red blood cells could be used to standardise dietary garlic supplements.

They say garlic-rich diets have benefits for cardiovascular disease and on the overall health.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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