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Allicin is an organosulfur compound obtained from garlic
Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and rakkyo. Dating back over 6,000 years, garlic is native to central Asia, and has long been a staple in the Mediterranean region, as well as a frequent...

, a species in the family Alliaceae
Allioideae is the botanical name of a monocot subfamily of flowering plants in the family Amaryllidaceae, order Asparagales. It was formerly treated as a separate family, Alliaceae...

. It was first isolated and studied in the laboratory by Chester J. Cavallito and John Hays Bailey in 1944. This colorless liquid has a distinctively pungent smell. This compound exhibits antibacterial and anti-fungal
Fungicides are chemical compounds or biological organisms used to kill or inhibit fungi or fungal spores. Fungi can cause serious damage in agriculture, resulting in critical losses of yield, quality and profit. Fungicides are used both in agriculture and to fight fungal infections in animals...

 properties. Allicin is garlic's defense mechanism against attacks by pests.

Structure and occurrence

Allicin features the thiosulfinate
In organosulfur chemistry, thiosulfinate is a functional group consisting of the linkage R-S-S-R . The thiosulfinate functional group is rare, but these compounds are invoked as intermediates in the oxidation of thiols to sulfonic acids, which is a common transformation. They feature a S center...

 functional group, R-S(O)-S-R. The compound is not present in garlic unless tissue damage occurs, and is formed by the action of the enzyme alliinase
In enzymology, an alliin lyase is an enzyme that catalyzes the chemical reactionHence, this enzyme has one substrate, S-alkyl-L-cysteine S-oxide, and two products, alkyl sulfenate and 2-aminoacrylate....

 on alliin
Alliin is a sulfoxide that is a natural constituent of fresh garlic. It is a derivative of the amino acid cysteine. When fresh garlic is chopped or crushed, the enzyme alliinase converts alliin into allicin, which is responsible for the aroma of fresh garlic...

. Allicin is chiral
Chirality (chemistry)
A chiral molecule is a type of molecule that lacks an internal plane of symmetry and thus has a non-superimposable mirror image. The feature that is most often the cause of chirality in molecules is the presence of an asymmetric carbon atom....

 but occurs naturally only as a racemate. The racemic
In chemistry, a racemic mixture, or racemate , is one that has equal amounts of left- and right-handed enantiomers of a chiral molecule. The first known racemic mixture was "racemic acid", which Louis Pasteur found to be a mixture of the two enantiomeric isomers of tartaric acid.- Nomenclature :A...

 form can also be generated by oxidation of diallyl disulfide
In chemistry, a disulfide usually refers to the structural unit composed of a linked pair of sulfur atoms. Disulfide usually refer to a chemical compound that contains a disulfide bond, such as diphenyl disulfide, C6H5S-SC6H5....

:2 + RCO3H
Meta-Chloroperoxybenzoic acid
meta-Chloroperoxybenzoic acid is a peroxycarboxylic acid used widely as an oxidant in organic synthesis. mCPBA is often preferred to other peroxy acids because of its relative ease of handling...


Alliinase is irreversibly deactivated below pH 3; as such, allicin is generally not produced in the body from the consumption of fresh or powdered garlic. Furthermore, allicin can be unstable, breaking down within 16 h at 23 °C.

Potential health benefits

Several animal studies published between 1995 and 2005 indicate that allicin may: reduce atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which an artery wall thickens as a result of the accumulation of fatty materials such as cholesterol...

 and fat deposition, normalize the lipoprotein
A lipoprotein is a biochemical assembly that contains both proteins and lipids water-bound to the proteins. Many enzymes, transporters, structural proteins, antigens, adhesins, and toxins are lipoproteins...

 balance, decrease blood pressure
Blood pressure
Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by circulating blood upon the walls of blood vessels, and is one of the principal vital signs. When used without further specification, "blood pressure" usually refers to the arterial pressure of the systemic circulation. During each heartbeat, BP varies...

, have anti-thrombotic
Thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel, obstructing the flow of blood through the circulatory system. When a blood vessel is injured, the body uses platelets and fibrin to form a blood clot to prevent blood loss...

 and anti-inflammatory
Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. Inflammation is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the injurious stimuli and to initiate the healing process...

 activities, and function as an antioxidant
An antioxidant is a molecule capable of inhibiting the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons or hydrogen from a substance to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals. In turn, these radicals can start chain reactions. When...

 to some extent. Other studies have shown a strong oxidative effect in the gut that can damage intestinal cells. A randomized clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health
National Institutes of Health
The National Institutes of Health are an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and are the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research. Its science and engineering counterpart is the National Science Foundation...

 (NIH) in the United States and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine
Archives of Internal Medicine
The Archives of Internal Medicine is a peer-reviewed medical journal published twice a month by the American Medical Association. The Archives of Internal Medicine was established in 1908 and covers all aspects of internal medicine, including cardiovascular disease, geriatrics, infectious disease,...

in 2007 found that the consumption of garlic in any form did not reduce blood cholesterol levels in patients with moderately high baseline cholesterol levels. The fresh garlic used in this study contained substantial levels of allicin so this study casts doubt on the ability of allicin when taken orally to reduce blood cholesterol levels in human subjects.

In 2009, Vaidya, Ingold, and Pratt have clarified the mechanism of the antioxidant activity of garlic.works to produce its medicinal effects, such as trapping damaging radicals
Radical (chemistry)
Radicals are atoms, molecules, or ions with unpaired electrons on an open shell configuration. Free radicals may have positive, negative, or zero charge...

. When allicin decomposes, it forms 2-propenesulfenic acid, and this compound is what binds to the free-radicals. The 2-propenesulfenic formed when garlic is cut or crushed has a lifetime of less than one second.

Antibacterial activity

Allicin has been found to have numerous antimicrobial properties, and has been studied in relation to both its effects and its biochemical interactions. One potential application is in the treatment of methicillin
Meticillin or methicillin is a narrow-spectrum beta-lactam antibiotic of the penicillin class. It should not be confused with the antibiotic metacycline.-History:Methicillin was developed by Beecham in 1959...

-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
Staphylococcus aureus
Staphylococcus aureus is a facultative anaerobic Gram-positive coccal bacterium. It is frequently found as part of the normal skin flora on the skin and nasal passages. It is estimated that 20% of the human population are long-term carriers of S. aureus. S. aureus is the most common species of...

 (MRSA), an increasingly prevalent concern in hospitals. A screening of allicin against 30 strains of MRSA found high level of antimicrobial activitity, including against strains that are resistant to other chemical agents. Of the strains tested, 88% had minimum inhibitory concentration
Minimum inhibitory concentration
In microbiology, minimum inhibitory concentration is the lowest concentration of an antimicrobial that will inhibit the visible growth of a microorganism after overnight incubation. Minimum inhibitory concentrations are important in diagnostic laboratories to confirm resistance of microorganisms...

s for allicin liquids of 16 mg/L, and all strains were inhibited at 32 mg/L. Furthermore, 88% of clinical isolates had minimum bactericidal concentration
Minimum Bactericidal Concentration
The Minimum Bactericidal Concentration is the lowest concentration of antibiotic required to kill the germ. Not as commonly seen as the Minimum inhibitory concentration . It can be determined from broth dilution MIC tests by subculturing to agar media without antibiotics...

s of 128 mg/L, and all were killed at 256 mg/L. Of these strains, 82% showed intermediate or full resistance to mupirocin. This same study examined use of an aqueous cream
Aqueous cream
Aqueous Cream BP is a light, paraffin-based emulsion which is officially registered in the British Pharmacopoeia and categorised by the British National Formulary as a non-proprietary emollient preparation...

 of allicin, and found it somewhat less effective than allicin liquid. At 500 mg/L, however, the cream was still active against all the organisms tested—which compares well with the 20 g/L mupirocin currently used for topical application.

A water-based formulation of purified allicin was found to be more chemically stable than other preparations of garlic extracts. They proposed that the stability may be due to the hydrogen bonding of water to the reactive oxygen atom in allicin and also to the absence of other components in crushed garlic that destabilize the molecule. (Presumably, the dilution of these components in water helps to preserve the allicin molecule.)

See also

  • Allyl isothiocyanate
    Allyl isothiocyanate
    Allyl isothiocyanate is the organosulfur compound with the formula CH2CHCH2NCS. This colorless oil is responsible for the pungent taste of mustard, horseradish, and wasabi. This pungency and the lachrymatory effect of AITC is mediated through the TRPA1 and TRPV1 ion channels...

    , the active piquant chemical in mustard
    Mustard plant
    Mustards are several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis whose small mustard seeds are used as a spice and, by grinding and mixing them with water, vinegar or other liquids, are turned into the condiment known as mustard or prepared mustard...

    , radish
    The radish is an edible root vegetable of the Brassicaceae family that was domesticated in Europe, in pre-Roman times. They are grown and consumed throughout the world. Radishes have numerous varieties, varying in size, color and duration of required cultivation time...

    es, horseradish
    Horseradish is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family, which also includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, and cabbages. The plant is probably native to south eastern Europe and the Arab World , but is popular around the world today...

     and wasabi
    , also known as Japanese horseradish, is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbages, horseradish, and mustard. Its root is used as a condiment and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is more akin to that of a hot mustard rather than the capsaicin in a chili pepper,...

  • Capsaicin
    Capsaicin 2CHCH=CH4CONHCH2C6H3-4--3- ) is the active component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. It is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact...

    , the active piquant chemical in chili pepper
    Chili pepper
    Chili pepper is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The term in British English and in Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaysia and other Asian countries is just chilli without pepper.Chili peppers originated in the Americas...

  • Piperine
    Piperine is the alkaloid responsible for the pungency of black pepper and long pepper, along with chavicine . It has also been used in some forms of traditional medicine and as an insecticide. Piperine forms monoclinic needles, is slightly soluble in water and more so in alcohol, ether or...

    , the active piquant chemical in black pepper
    Black pepper
    Black pepper is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is approximately in diameter, dark red when fully mature, and, like all drupes, contains a single seed...

  • syn-Propanethial-S-oxide
    syn-Propanethial S-oxide is a gas that acts as a lachrymatory agent . The chemical is released from onions, Allium cepa, as they are sliced...

    , the chemical found in onion
    The onion , also known as the bulb onion, common onion and garden onion, is the most widely cultivated species of the genus Allium. The genus Allium also contains a number of other species variously referred to as onions and cultivated for food, such as the Japanese bunching onion The onion...

  • List of phytochemicals in food