by Carmia Borek, Ph.D.
Papers presented at the 2005 Garlic Symposium in Washington, DC, held April 9 to 11, report the current scientific research into the effects of garlic on heart health and cancer prevention. Many of the studies presented reported the benefits of aged-garlic extract, an odourless supplement made from organically grown garlic.
In one study, aged garlic extract given to heart disease patients for one year cut plaque formation in their coronary arteries by over 50 percent, thereby dramatically reducing their risk of heart attacks. The double-blind, placebo-controlled study presented by Dr. M. Budoff of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center used a non-invasive procedure of electron beam tomography to measure and track atherosclerotic plaque progression. Patients on placebo showed a 22.2 percent progression after one year while patients on aged garlic extract (1,200 mg/day) showed a 7.5 percent progression. Patients who took aged garlic extract showed a decrease in homocysteine, a cardiovascular risk factor, and an increase in heart-protective HDL cholesterol.
Findings by others show that aged garlic extract reduced additional cardiovascular risk factors by lowering blood pressure, reducing LDL cholesterol, and preventing platelet stickiness - while stimulating production of nitric oxide, a vasodilating compound in cells that line blood vessels that aids vessel dilation.
Oxidative stress (free-radical overload and insufficient antioxidants) and inflammation play a role in cardiovascular disease. Dr. K. Rahman of Liverpool John Moores University reported new unpublished data showing that aged garlic extract decreases blood and urine levels of an oxidative stress marker and inflammatory substance (prostaglandin 8-iso PGF 2 alpha) in smokers and non-smokers. The extract also increases antioxidant levels in smokers, whose levels are severely depleted.
Epidemiological data shows that garlic-rich diets lower stomach, colon, and prostate cancer risk; eating garlic more than once a week can reduce colon cancer risk by 50 percent, compared to not eating it at all. Dr. S. Tanaka of Hiroshima University Hospital presented clinical data showing that aged garlic extract prevents new tumours in patients with benign tumours, indicating its potential to help prevent early stages of colorectal cancer.
Free radicals are among the most potent cancer-causing agents. Produced during metabolism and increased during infection, inflammation, exposure to pollutants, radiation, and sunlight, free radicals damage DNA and oxidize other molecules, causing changes that can lead to cancer; other damage to DNA occurs through carcinogen binding. Preclinical studies show that aged extract prevents many types of cancer by disabling free radicals, blocking carcinogen-DNA binding, and increasing carcinogen disposal. Aged garlic extract also boosts some immune functions even more effectively than fresh garlic, and selectively kills cancer cells by a suicide process called apoptosis (cell self-destruction).
This year's Garlic Symposium provides plenty of reason to include garlic in your daily diet.
Garlic: Multi-Purpose Health Booster
If you were stranded on a desert island and had to choose just one supplement to keep you healthy, what would you choose? Charlie Fox, the guru of garlic and co-author of The Garlic Cure (McCleery & Sons, 2002), chooses garlic for its awesome ability to stimulate and support immune function, trigger gastric juices for better digestion, encourage the growth of friendly bacteria, and prevent infections. We've seen that garlic reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. But garlic also improves blood sugar regulation and promotes detoxification. Just one garlic clove each day can boost general health. If you don't like raw or cooked garlic, consider a garlic supplement such as powder, oils, or aged garlic extract. Look for the brand that offers the richest supply of garlic's most potent sulphur-compound - S-allyl cysteine (SAC) - and is also odourless and less irritating to the stomach.
Carmia Borek, PhD, researches nutrients and antioxidants in disease and aging and is author of more than 300 publications, including the book Maximize Your Healthspan with Antioxidants (Keats, 1995).