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Garlic may help control cholesterol

Though it’s been dubbed the stinking rose, garlic (Allium sativum) is actually related to the lily. Its bulbs have been used since antiquity to flavor foods and treat a variety of ills, including tuberculosis and scorpion stings. When the bulb’s cells are crushed, they produce allicin, an unstable compound with antibiotic activity. Researchers suspect that allicin triggers the production of other medically active compounds, and they’re investigating it and related garlic substances for their possible ability to reduce cholesterol and treat cancer.

Uses: Garlic and garlic supplements are taken in efforts to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, prevent hardening of the arteries, and fend off heart disease and cancer. People also use garlic products as all-purpose immune boosters.

Dose: Take 1 to 3 cloves or up to 900 milligrams in supplement form per day. Garlic supplements are sold as capsules, tablets, aged garlic extract, garlic essential oil and crushed raw garlic, among other forms. Because cooking, heating or drying garlic reduces its concentration of active compounds, look for supplements not prepared in these ways.

Precautions: Garlic is well-known for its ability to cause heartburn, gas, bad breath and body odor. In large doses, raw garlic can hamper the blood’s ability to clot, so people on blood-thinning medications and those going into surgery should avoid it. The products can also speed up metabolism of certain prescription medications, particularly drugs used to treat HIV, so check with your doctor to avoid potentially harmful drug interactions.

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Research: Garlic has demonstrated impressive antiviral and antibacterial abilities in the lab. In humans, a few studies suggest that it may help prevent malaria and some types of cancer, including stomach and colon cancer. Evidence from the latest human research shows garlic might help prevent hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, by relaxing and widening blood vessels. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and blood lipid levels -- but the effects can be small and are maintained only as long as the garlic or supplements are being consumed. Evidence from human studies on heart disease and blood pressure is less conclusive. Support for claims about garlic’s immune-boosting abilities comes largely from lab studies, and so far hasn’t been supported by evidence from clinical trials.

Dietary supplement makers are not required by the U.S. government to demonstrate that their products are safe or effective. Ask your healthcare provider for advice on selecting a brand.

-- Elena Conis


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