For nearly four decades, garlic has been touted by the scientific community as a natural remedy for elevated LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Yet the results of the most rigorous garlic study ever — funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted at Stanford University — reveal that previous studies were likely wrong. Whether consumed fresh or in powdered pill form, garlic did not lower cholesterol in the study’s participants, adults (average age 50) with moderately elevated LDL. The experiment’s findings, published in the February 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine, are thought to supersede those of previous studies, which typically tested only one garlic type and did not maintain potency consistency. Stanford researchers looked at two top-selling garlic supplements as well as fresh garlic; they also monitored the exact chemical composition of the preparations for the duration of the study.
Now that the verdict is in on garlic’s ineffectiveness for cholesterol, should we throw out the cloves with their paper-thin casings? Hardly. The Stanford study didn’t rule out garlic’s other potential benefits for cardiovascular health. Various studies have shown that regular consumption of garlic can lower blood pressure, inhibit coronary artery calcification and decrease platelet aggregation, thereby reducing the risk of stroke and thrombosis. Though garlic may not lower cholesterol, it can prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the blood stream and inhibit the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, which lead to heart disease.
Garlic owes its reputation as a folk remedy — and as a breath killer — to its variety of organosulfur compounds. Allicin and dialyl disulphide are thought to relax and enlarge blood vessels, promoting better blood flow. Allicin is also a powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal capable of killing harmful microbes — even those that have become resistant to pharmaceuticals — making garlic a natural antidote to colds, flu and infections. Ajoene has been shown to shrink the tumors of skin cancer patients. Garlic’s stink may even make you smarter: researchers in China demonstrated that the sulfur compound sallylcystein prevents degeneration of the brain’s frontal lobes.
In addition to these odiferous compounds, garlic is chock full of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C teams up with allicin to protect against cholesterol oxidation, bad bacteria, and colon cancer. In fact, research has shown that eating as few as two servings of garlic a week reduces the risk of colon cancer significantly. Garlic is also a good source of selenium, which guards against heavy metal toxicity, and manganese, an antioxidant defense enzyme.
- can lower blood pressure
reduce risk of stroke and thrombosis
- may reduce risk of colon cancer
- antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal
- contains Vitamin C, allicin, selenium and manganese
It is believed that the Egyptians gave garlic to the slaves who built the pyramids to fortify their strength and endurance. Greek and Roman athletes ate garlic before competitions, while soldiers consumed it before battle. No wonder: garlic contains anti-inflammatory enzymes that reduce the symptoms associated with a host of inflammatory conditions, from arthritis to asthma — not to mention the pain and swelling that might result from hurling a javelin or carrying blocks of limestone up the face of a pyramid.
From the reign of the Pharaohs to the present, cooks have savored garlic as a marinade for meat. Beyond the sweet-hot flavor it imparts, garlic may also make grilled meats healthier by reducing the carcinogens produced as a result of exposing meat to high temperatures. Perhaps this is part of why regular garlic consumption is correlated with a reduced risk of a range of cancers, including oral, ovarian, breast, prostate and renal. Garlic also promotes healthy digestion by warding off intestinal worms and parasites and stopping the H. pylori bacterium, which causes ulcers, from doing excessive damage. Though garlic did not prevail in cholesterol cross-examination, the mighty cloves have certainly won their case.
(Updated: 09/24/12 SG)