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[Garlic and Cardiovascular Health | Garlic Reduces Cancer Risk]
[Garlic as an Antioxidant | Other Uses | Recommended Dosage]
[Contraindications | References]

Photo of Garlic bulbs.Used medicinally for 5000 years, garlic has many well-researched effects. Garlic is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory. Garlic boosts immune function, garlic helps digestion and garlic has also been shown to have anti-cancer effects. Garlic reduces cholesterol, blood pressure, blood clotting, and garlic limits free radical damage.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is mentioned for its curative powers as far back as the Bible and the Talmud, as well as garlic mentions in writings by many Roman and Greek historian/philosophers, including Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder.

The active component of garlic is a sulfur compound called allicin, which is produced when the garlic clove is broken. Allicin, in turn, becomes ajoene, allyl sulfide, and vinyldithiin.1

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Garlic and Cardiovascular Health
A study published in the May 1999 issue of Arteriosclerosis showed that a garlic powder supplement can help prevent, and in some cases, even reverse plaque build-up in the arteries. Researchers have long associated arterial plaque with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The garlic study was conducted using randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled groups and took place over a four-year period. 152 men and women with advanced plaque accumulation participated. Researchers used ultrasound to measure the progression and regression of plaque volume in the common carotid and femoral arteries.

At the end of the garlic study, those who took 900 mg garlic daily had a 2.6 percent reduction in plaque volume, compared to a 15.6 percent increase in the placebo group. The double-blind design of the garlic study was compromised by the odor of the garlic pills, which were easily distinguished from the placebo pills. However, the investigators asserted that the decline in plaque volume observed in participants taking garlic remains a "genuine garlic effect."

Based on this garlic study and more than 20 other garlic studies conducted on standardized powdered garlic, researchers believe that garlic can have not only a preventative but also a curative role in heart disease. Previous studies demonstrate that powdered garlic reduces total and harmful LDL cholesterol levels, serum triglycerides, and blood pressure, and garlic also inhibits cholesterol oxidation and platelet aggregation (the tendency of the blood platelets to clump), among other positive effects. These garlic studies add more support to the scientific case for garlic's mild effects on many different measurements.12

In a 12-week garlic study of 42 people at Tulane University School of Medicine, total blood cholesterol levels dropped 6% for those taking 900 mg daily garlic, compared to a 1% drop in the placebo control group. The garlic takers also benefited from an 11% decrease in the LDL form of cholesterol, compared with a 3% reduction in the placebo group.3,11

Garlic may lower high blood pressure by 5 to 10% more than placebo in some studies.4,5

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Garlic Reduces Cancer Risk
A large number of studies have implicated garlic and onions in the reduction of cancer in humans, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.10

Garlic consumption had a direct association with decreases in stomach cancer in a large population China study. This held true for both raw and cooked garlic. The Chinese garlic study drew a direct correlation between consumption of garlic and other Allium vegetables, such as onions, and a decreased risk for stomach cancer. (The study also reports a sudden epidemic of bad breath and an increase in tic tac consumption.) In this garlic study, people consuming the greatest amount of garlic (64 g/day) and onions had only 40 percent the risk of stomach cancer of those consuming the lowest amount of garlic (less than 32 g/day).6

A very large epidemiological study for Americans was published in which the intake of 127 foods (including 44 vegetables and fruits) was determined in 41,387 women (ages 55-69) followed by a five-year monitoring of colon cancer incidence. The most striking result of this "Iowa Women's Health Study" was the finding that garlic was the only food which showed a statistically significant association with decreased colon cancer risk. For cancers anywhere in the colon, the modest consumption of one or more servings of garlic (fresh or powdered) per week resulted in a 35% lower risk, while a 50% lower risk was found for cancer of the distal colon.7 Although this study of 127 foods did not include onions, several other epidemiological studies have shown that onions and other Allium species including garlic are usually associated with decreased gastrointestinal cancer risk.

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Garlic as an Antioxidant
Garlic helps to prevent the oxidation of blood fats, another major contributor to the development of arteriosclerosis and other forms of heart disease. Thus garlic is an antioxidant also.

The susceptibility of blood fats to oxidation was reduced by 34 percent in a short two-week garlic study. This was a garlic study of 10 people who took a daily dose of 600 mg of garlic powder tablets, compared to a placebo control group.8

In a laboratory study of garlic effectiveness, aged garlic protected blood vessel cells from damage by oxidized LDL cholesterol.9

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Other Garlic Uses
Garlic is sometimes used for athlete's Foot, ear infections, HIV support, vaginitis and yeast infection, with less supportive data. Garlic is considered a topical antibiotic, but it is unclear if garlic possesses any antibiotic activity when taken internally.

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Recommended Dosage
One whole clove of garlic daily, or 900 mg garlic (standardized to 1.3% alliin) daily. (This garlic dose also repels vampires, but it is only strong enough to work during the day.)

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Garlic has no known drug interactions. However patients with bleeding disorders or who are taking anti-coagulants (warfarin, coumadin, pentoxifylline) or even aspirin, should consult with a doctor before using a garlic supplement. If you are scheduled to have surgery, it is a good idea to discontinue garlic supplementation two weeks before hand. At a minimum, tell your surgeon what herbs you are taking. Garlic and Ginkgo biloba together may predispose to bleeding in susceptible individuals. Garlic intolerance may result in heartburn or flatulence.

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  1. Koch HP, Lawson LD, eds., Garlic: The Science and Therapeutic Application of Allium sativaum L and Related Species, 2d ed. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1996.
  2. Koscielny J, Klüssendorf D, Latza R, Schmitt R, Radtke H, Siegel G, Kiesewetter H. The antiatherosclerotic effect of Allium sativum. Atherosclerosis 1999; 144: 237-249.
  3. Jain AK. American Journal of Medicine (June 1994;94:632-5).
  4. Auer W, et al. Hypertension and hyperlipidemia: Garlic helps in mild cases. British Journal of Clinical Practice Symp 69 (Suppl.): 3-6, 1990.
  5. Santos OS de A, et al. Effects of garlic powder and garlic oil preparations on blood lipids, blood pressure and well being. British Journal of Clinical Res 6: 91-100, 1995.
  6. You W-C, Blot WJ, Chang y-S, et al. Allium vegetables and reduced risk of stomach cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute; 1989; 81: 162-164.
  7. Steinmetz KA, Kushi LH, bostick RM, et al. Vegetables, fruit, and colon cancer in the Iowa Women's Health Study. American Journal of Epidemiology; 1994; 139(1): 1-15.
  8. Phelps S, Harris WS. Garlic supplementation and lopoprotein oxidation susceptibility. Lipids 1993; 28 (5); 475-577.
  9. Ide N, Lau BHS. Garlic compounds protect vascular endothelial cells from oxidized low density lipoprotein-induced injury. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology; 1997; 49: 908-911.
  10. Dorant E, van der Brandt PA, et al. Garlic and its significance for the prevention of cancer in humans: A critical review. British Journal of Cancer 1993;67:424-29.
  11. Warshafsky S, et al. Effect of garlic on total serum cholesterol. A meta-analysis. Annual of Internal Medicine 119(7) Part 1: 599-605, 1993.
  12. Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, Ter Riet G. Garlic, onion and cardiovascular risk factors: A review of the evidence from human experiments with emphasis on commercially available preparations. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 1989; 28:535-44.

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