It may not make for the most romantic after-dinner kisses, but new research has found that adding garlic to your meals could protect your brain from the effects of aging.

Scientists from the University of Missouri have isolated a nutrient in this delicious little bulb, which protects the human brain from the negative effects of age-related disease, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Zezong Gu, Associate Professor of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences at the University of Missouri School of Medicine is the lead author of the study. He explains that garlic is one of the most commonly taken supplements amongst adults. And their faith is not ill-placed: garlic has achieved superfood status over the past few decades due research which has uncovered its impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

But, not satisfied with the fact that garlic might help us beat a cold quicker than expected, the Missouri researchers wanted to see what it does to our brains. So Gu’s team isolated a carbohydrate in garlic known as FruArg. This nutrient plays a prominent role in our body’s protective responses to disease and infection. The researchers began to examine FruArg’s ability to inhibit or reverse damage to the cells of our brains caused by daily environmental stress (smoking, pollution, traumatic brain injury, and living in general).

Normally, when the central nervous system comes under attack from outside pollutants or stress, little immune cells called microglia flock to the affected area. And they multiply, and multiply and multiply. But, while this migrate and amass reaction can be protective (and fight off pollutant threats to our CNS), they also produce a lot of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide leads to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The brain

So you cannot improve protection to the brain by improving levels of microglia (as would seem logical) because they’d simply flood our systems with nitric oxide.

But good old garlic might resolve this catch 22: FruArg causes the microglial cells to reduce the amount of nitric oxide they produce. And as if that’s not enough of a reason to start embracing your inner Italian when it comes to eating garlic, FruArg also promoted the production of antioxidants, protecting other brain cells as well as the area affected by the infection or trauma.