Garlic the wonder food
Garlic and its cousins (onions, chives and scallions) are probably the most intriguing of all vegetables. Garlic lowers cholesterol, reduces the risk of heart disease, fights infection and boosts immunity. And, as if that weren't enough, the data is strong for the prevention of cancers of the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. The National Cancer Institute is sponsoring a huge clinical trial on garlic's ability to prevent stomach cancer. But why wait years for the results of this clinical trial?
It was Louis Pasteur who first described the antibacterial effect of garlic and onion juices. Garlic is effective even against antibiotic-resistant strains. It even kills Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a kind of bacteria which is implicated in the cause of some stomach cancers and ulcers.
Several studies (1-3) show that garlic benefits the following conditions:
- Colon cancer (reduces risk of stomach, esophageal, and colon cancers)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
Many publications have shown that garlic supports the cardiovascular system, while earlier trials suggest it may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood.
Garlic and cancer
Human population studies suggest that eating garlic regularly reduces the risk of esophageal, colon and stomach cancer.(4,5) This may be partly due to garlic's ability to reduce the formation of carcinogenic compounds.
Parts of China have the misfortune to have an inordinately high rate of cancer of the esophagus and stomach. Scientists at the Nanjing Cancer Institute compared the incidence of several cancers among thousands of people who ate lots of allium vegetables versus thousands who ate little or none. ('Lots' in this case means at least once per week while 'little' means less than once per month.)
Here is how allium vegetables prevented cancer of the esophagus:
85% reduction for those who ate lots of scallions
75% for onions
70% for garlic
43% for chives
The figures for stomach cancer prevention are equally impressive:
83% reduction for those who ate lots of onions
78% for scallions
69% for garlic
60% for chives
Studies indicate that eating garlic seems to protect against colorectal cancer as well.
Dr. Lenore Arab and colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed 18 studies looking at garlic eaters.
The average intake of the consumers of raw or cooked garlic was 18.3 grams per week (about six cloves).
Based on 6 studies, the findings suggest "high consumption of raw or cooked garlic decreases the risk of colorectal cancer from 10% to nearly 50%," the researchers write(6).
Garlic and heart disease
Recent studies (7) have uncovered what is perhaps
garlic's most important health benefit: lowering the risk of heart disease.
The studies suggest that garlic may:
- lower total cholesterol
- lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol
- lower blood pressure
- help keep blood thin, reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke,
- function as an antioxidant.
- There are also some preliminary findings suggesting that garlic may lower elevated serum levels of homocysteine.
These effects are wide-ranging and likely result from several different mechanisms.
Regular garlic consumption appears to prevent the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries and may even shrink existing plaques, according to German researchers who recently concluded a 4-year study of 280 adults (8). People who ingested 900 mg of garlic powder daily had up to 18% less arterial plaque at the end of the study than those taking a placebo. The effect, seen in both sexes, was most pronounced in women. Plaque volume rose by 53% in women on the placebo, while it declined by 4.6% in those taking garlic.
Another benefit which has been confirmed by medical research is garlic's antibiotic activity. Studies have repeatedly confirmed that garlic is effective against bacteria, fungi and yeasts. Garlic can be safely taken for mild, recurring or chronic infections which are not dangerous. Examples include colds, infections of the mouth, ears, throat and especially candida. (9)
|Personally, I eat 3-5 cloves of garlic each day with my first glass of vegetable juice. It's important to chew the garlic to release the allicin in it.|| |
Many people avoid eating garlic since it can make one's breath smell pretty strong. In that case, garlic supplements are a convenient alternative.
For those who prefer it, odor-controlled, enteric-coated tablets or capsules with approximately 1.3% allin are available. Several clinical trials which have shown benefits have used 600–900 mg (delivering approximately 5,000–6,000 mcg of allicin potential) per day in 2 or 3 divided amounts.(10,11)
Which garlic supplement should you choose? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Nutrition experts continue to debate whether aged garlic extracts are superior to standardized high-allicin extracts.
Aging is a method of preserving garlic. It was developed thousands of years ago by Chinese herbalists, who found that "steeping" garlic in vinegar for a few years actually increased the herb's potency. A Japanese company reinvented the process in the 1950s. In the modern version, organically grown garlic is placed in large vats of vinegar for 2 years.
Proponents say that aging the garlic in this way enhances the herb's antioxidant properties, prevents the rapid deterioration of important compounds, and removes the odor as well as irritants which might cause stomach upset.
Indeed, if you're concerned about garlic breath, an aged extract or enteric-coated tablet is the way to go. If you're treating an infection of some kind, a standardized high-allicin extract or the actual food is the better choice. Aging destroys garlic's antibiotic properties.
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Some individuals who are sensitive to garlic may experience heartburn and flatulence. Because of garlic's anticlotting properties, those taking anticoagulant drugs should check with their nutritionally oriented doctor before taking garlic. Those scheduled for surgery should inform their surgeon if they are taking garlic supplements.