How Spies Used Garlic to Help Win World War II

You're sitting at a desk in a small room with just two phones. One rings, and when you pick up, a mysterious voice on the other end of the line tells you what to do. And you do it.

That was part of Charles Fraser-Smith's job during World War II. He was the guy who likely inspired author Ian Fleming to create the character "Q"... James Bond's trusty gadgeteer in all those books and movies.

Each morning, Fraser-Smith would take the train to London, where he worked his low-level government job. But that was just a cover – his real job was to supply British intelligence with any equipment it needed to fight the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan).

A member of an intelligence agency like MI6 or MI9 (a lesser-known wartime division specializing in escape and evasion) gave him his orders by phone. At first, he had requests like setting up manufacturing of fake military uniforms or hundreds of pistols. But soon enough, he got to work on what he eventually became famous for: creating gadgets.

Fraser-Smith created devices you'd expect a spy or secret agent to carry – like cigarette lighters that doubled as cameras and compasses hidden in pens and buttons. He also made grislier stuff like metal shoelaces for strangling an enemy and an underwater coffin with dry ice to preserve a dead body used in a top-secret operation to throw off the Germans.

Today, we're focusing on one of Fraser-Smith's least spylike gadgets... chocolates with garlic in them.

It was all part of the disguise for agents working undercover in Spain. The general idea was that the British, who weren't so big on garlic, could better pass off as citizens of a country with a garlic-rich cuisine. And Fraser-Smith knew that garlic doesn't just flavor your food. Eating enough of it could add some flavor to your body odor, too.

Fresh garlic isn't smelly until you damage it in some way. Chopping and crushing garlic releases an enzyme that helps a chemical reaction happen... one where you end up with a compound called allicin. That allicin you eat gets broken down into more chemicals. One of them is called allyl methyl sulfide. Scientists think it's the culprit behind the distinct "garlic breath." And it's also found in sweat, urine, and breastmilk.

Fraser-Smith believed that slight change in body odor would help agents blend in better in countries like Spain.

Of course, most of us aren't international spies. But garlic isn't just a pungent perfume... It also has amazing health benefits...

  • Antibacterial: According to a December 2022 study published in Microbiology Spectrum, allicin even helps defeat a super-drug-resistant bacteria. Allicin became a bacteria-killing virus – breaking the DNA of the superbug.
  • Antifungal: A February 2021 study found that allicin blasted away roughly half of a filmy network of fungus and bacteria that cause denture stomatitis, a mouth infection commonly found in denture wearers. Symptoms include pain, burning, swelling, and a change in how things taste. (For more on taking care of your chompers during your golden years – and why it might just save your life – check out my September issue of Retirement Millionaire here. Or get more details on my monthly newsletter here if you're not already a subscriber.)
  • Anti-inflammatory: A 2021 review of studies found allicin prevents inflammation in the brain. That's because allicin's antioxidant powers keep "free radicals" levels in check. Too many of these molecules can lead to oxidative stress and chronic inflammation – a recipe for many chronic diseases and cancer. But allicin helps reduce free-radical levels and can even tell your body to make more of other helpful antioxidants.
  • Cardioprotective: Dozens of studies since the 1950s have shown how garlic can lower your risk of heart disease. Allicin improves the amount of total cholesterol and bad cholesterol. It also relaxes the blood vessels to lower blood pressure. It can even help prevent blood clots and control high blood sugar.

If you want the health benefits of garlic, do what I do... I love it minced, crushed, and thrown in with 3 parts extra-virgin olive oil (to boost the antioxidant content) to 1 part acid – like lemon juice or red wine vinegar – for a simple salad dressing. After crushing garlic, I let it sit for a few minutes for the allicin to form while I prep the rest of the meal. One of my researchers loves it on pizza – she'll have a clove minced on the side whenever she orders a pie for delivery.

As with anything else you enjoy in life, moderation is key... Eating too much garlic (more than about two cloves) can mess with certain drugs. So if you're on prescription medications, check with your doctor before eating too much garlic.

Oh, and if you're worried about garlic breath, try some yogurt or some herbs like rosemary and mint... According to a recent study published in Molecules, plain, whole-milk yogurt lowered the amount of odor-producing chemicals in raw garlic by 99% – even beating out frying garlic (which is another way to reduce the smell). Another study from 2021 found that among fresh and dried versions of mint, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, fresh rosemary and dried mint had the most deodorizing powers.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement.

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
October 10, 2023