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February 25th, 2012


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Garlic, an herb lauded for its powerful medicinal properties, has been used as food and medicine by Thai’s since ancient times.  The same can be said of Mediterranean countries where Garlic is an important ingredient in many dishes.  Due to its popularity, it is not surprising that Garlic is considered a super food.  It contains over 200 substances, some of which could be beneficial to our health. One such substance is allicin, which gives garlic its distinctive smell.

There is controversy surrounding allicin and its medicinal properties.  Researchers wish to discount its medicinal benefits as it cannot withstand heat during cooking.  Therefore it is best to eat garlic raw.  Garlic is widely consumed in various forms because it is believed that it can lower blood cholesterol level, reduce cancer risk, improve blood pressure, treat diabetes and relieve infections, including common cold.

Garlic supplements all vary in terms of ingredients that are used, the age of the garlic, and the production process itself.  There is no substantial evidence that supports whether or not these differences increases or decreases the potency of the supplements.

Current research on animals (in which results may sometimes contradict traditional beliefs) has discovered evidence that garlic can reduce platelet  / aggregation (decreasing risk of block arteries).  Nonetheless, studies in humans yield no such evident results and the garlic used in animal based research vary in form, so the dosage is hard to compare.

To add to its list of credentials, garlic is also believed to lower blood cholesterol and prevent cancer.  Six in ten studies on garlic and cholesterol level related research demonstrated that garlic can help lower LDL cholesterol.  However, a carefully planned study (published in 2008), conducted on 192 test subjects, yielded no definite results.  Test subjects were given garlic in many forms, as well as a placebo, yet cholesterol levels remained un-change.

Results yielded from cancer studies also vary.  Some of these studies found that regular consumption of garlic can decrease risk of cancer.  But, a case in China also found that consumption of garlic for seven consecutive years could not prevent stomach cancer.

Studies on the effect of garlic on blood pressure, and platelet formation have shown that the herb can reduce each condition minimally.  But significant evidence is lacking to support the claim that garlic can aid in relieving common colds, or treat diabetes.

Garlic has some side effects, too. If consumed together with anti-platelet drug such as Warfarin, aspirin or fish oil, it increases the chance of bleeding. With some medications, such as those for blood pressure, diabetes, HIV, cancer and cholesterol level, garlic can induce reactions such nausea and a gaseous stomach for some.

Statistics from many modern-day studies contradicts what is known from traditional herb lore.  This doesn’t mean that we have to discount traditional beliefs.   However, though garlic may help reduce the level of cholesterol or blood pressure, the effect is minimal compared to eating a healthy diet.  This means plenty of fruits and vegetables together with low-fat and low salt food.


It is not yet known which form of garlic is most effective, but if you do not suffer from any side effects after consuming garlic, it does not hurt to add this herbal plant to your diet. But remember that overcooked garlic loses most of it’s nutrients, though the delicious flavour remains!


Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.


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