Canadian scientists have found that the antioxidant power of garlic is related to the organic compound allicin, research that deepens our understanding of the potential benefits of this
food and supplements favourite.
The antioxidant effects are due to a compound called sulfenic acid, which is produced by the decomposition of allicin, according to data published in the international edition of
“Basically the allicin compound has to decompose in order to generate a potent antioxidant,” said lead author Dr Derek Pratt. “The reaction between the sulfenic acid and
radicals is as fast as it can get, limited only by the time it takes for the two molecules to come into contact. No one has ever seen compounds, natural or synthetic, react this quickly
Consumer awareness of the health benefits of garlic, mostly in terms of cardiovascular and immune system health, has benefited the supplements industry, particularly since consumers
seek the benefits of garlic without the odours that accompany the fresh bulb.
Garlic supplements are worth more than $100m (€79.5m) in the US and are also one of the biggest sellers in the UK market.
However, allicin is not found in fresh garlic, and is only formed when garlic is crushed. Furthermore, there are question marks over how much allicin, if any, many of the supplements on
the market do contain. Some products have taken the stance of emphasising the allicin content of their products.
“While garlic has been used as a herbal medicine for centuries and there are many garlic supplements on the market, until now there has been no convincing explanation as to why
garlic is beneficial,” explained Dr Pratt. “I think we have taken the first step in uncovering a fundamental chemical mechanism which may explain garlic’s medicinal
Using a synthetically-produced allicin, the researchers found that an acid produced when the compound decomposes rapidly reacts with radicals.
Specifically, they report that garlic’s ability to trap potentially damaging peroxyl-radicals is due primarily to 2-propenesulfenic acid formed by the decomposition of allicin.
Pratt also commented on the potential of other Allium spp., like onions, leeks and shallots, to act as potential antioxidants. All of these other plants contain a compound that is very
similar to allicin, but the properties are not the same. This could be due to a slower rate of decomposition of the allicin analogs in the other plans, which leads to a lower level of
sulfenic acid available to react as antioxidants with radicals, said Pratt.
The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Ontario Ministry of Innovation.
Source: Angewandte Chemie International Edition