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Beating Back Garlic Breath With Parsley

Garlic is tasty and good for us. Not only does it have cardiovascular benefits it may also have anticancer activity. But what can we do about garlic breath?

Q. My husband has decided he should be getting garlic every day to control his blood pressure and cholesterol and protect himself against cancer. He hates taking pills or anything synthetic so I am stuck with the real stuff. It smells up my kitchen when he cooks and his breath has gone from bad to impossible.

I used to love the smell of garlic cooking, but now it makes me sick. His breath is indescribable. Are there any mouthwashes or special breath mints that could control his garlic smell

A. We completely understand your situation. Many years ago we received a message from a desperate mother. Her daughter was getting married in a few weeks and she had been trying to hint that her husband should ease off the garlic. As she said, “it just goes in one ear and other the other.” He loved minestrone soup with lots of garlic. Like you, she was hoping for something to counteract his garlic breath for the wedding.

Unfortunately, even industrial-strength mouthwash won’t help your husband. The aromatic odors emanate from his lungs rather than his mouth.

The Great Garlic Wars:

The dispute over garlic breath has been raging for a long time. Back in the 1930s doctors carried on a heated debate on this topic in the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). One group of researchers maintained that garlic breath originated solely in the mouth as a result of particles sticking to the teeth, tongue and tonsils. Their prescription–a popular mouthwash of the day which was supposed to “deodorize” the garlic particles.

Their claim was hotly contested by other physicians who maintained that the smelly volatile oils of garlic are absorbed from the stomach into the bloodstream and exhaled from the lungs with each breath.

A team at Yale finally put the issue to rest by reporting the results of their research. First, they enclosed fresh raw garlic inside double capsules so that no particles stayed in the mouth.

The experimental subjects who swallowed these garlic capsules as if they were vitamins developed distinctive garlic breath within two hours. Vigorous mouthwashing did not eliminate the smell.

The coup de grace was the experiment they carried out in the labor and delivery rooms at the hospital. Women in the first stage of labor took garlic capsules which produced garlic breath. When their babies were born, they too had garlic breath which lasted from 4 to 20 hours.

There’s no way mouthwash can do anything more than temporarily cover or mask the garlic fragrance.

Parsley for Garlic Breath:

Although we don’t know of any scientifically-tested antidotes to garlic breath, one reader of this column offered us the following anecdote:

“A very simple and inexpensive way to eliminate odors on the breath is to nibble on parsley. I learned this from a co-worker who fortified himself with a shot of gin before a meeting of any kind, hiding the odor by nibbling on dried parsley leaves.

“One evening I followed the recommendation of a friend to cure a cold by eating a garlic sandwich. I should have been suspicious the next day when everyone on the bus avoided me. In the office, people entering the front door gasped, ‘Where’s the garlic coming from?’ and followed their nose to my workspace. My co-worker saved the day by pouring a liberal amount of parsely flakes onto my hand and telling me to eat it like a rabbit! In no time the entire staff settled down to work.”

Another reader offered this:

“We saw an article in your column about bad breath. My wife used to have bad breath until someone told her about parsley. As soon as she started taking parsley capsules, her bad breath stopped almost overnight.”

The Health Benefits of Garlic:

Despite the obvious social complications of garlic consumptions garlic does have health benefits. An ingredient in garlic called ajoene is roughly comparable to aspirin in its anti-platelet action. That means it helps prevent blood platelets from clumping together. In theory that pharmacological action should reduce the risk for blood clot formation and heart attacks.

There are also data to suggest that garlic has anti-cancer potential. Animal research has been quite promising in this regard. Epidemiology is also suggestive. In China, for example, the residents of Gangshan have a very low risk of stomach cancer. But not far away, folks living in Quixia have much higher rates. One possible factor: Gangshan is a garlic-loving community, where people often eat up to seven cloves a day.

A review of garlic in the Journal of Immunology Research (online, April 19, 2015) sums up the health benefits of garlic:


The authors conclude:

“Garlic is one of the most employed seasonings for cooking. In addition to its use as a food additive, garlic has been long used in traditional medicine with protective and curative purposes. At present, the trend toward the use of natural remedies with fewer side effects has given rise to garlic consumption as an alternative therapy for diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and microbial infections. Different dietary garlic formulations, such as powder (tablets), garlic oil (capsules), and aged garlic extracts (tablets, capsules, and liquids), have been incorporated into the globally increased market of garlic bioactive compounds. However, the variety of manufacturing processes of garlic comprises important issues when choosing a garlic supplement, due to that these processes can markedly influence the composition of the garlic product and thus its biological effects.”

Bottom Line:

We don’t yet know if garlic supplements, especially deodorized garlic, have the same health benefits as the real thing. If you have a solution for garlic breath, please let us know in the comment section below. We promise to share it with garlic lovers world wide.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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