GARLIC AND YOUR HEALTH
Since ancient times, many cultures throughout the world have used garlic as both a food and a folk remedy for a variety of ailments. Only recently has garlic been subjected to scientific scrutiny. Over 1000 studies have been published over the last two decades covering various aspects of garlic research. The four main areas of research have covered garlic's effects on disease organisms (antimicrobial effects), effects on heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular health), antioxidant effects, and its potential for cancer prevention.
I have been involved in immunology research at Loma Linda University for the past fifteen years with special interest in finding means for preventing diseases. Among my garlic-related studies, I have observed that garlic can stop the growth of microbial cultures (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites) more effectively than some potent antibiotics. The studies demonstrated that garlic can efficiently stop the growth of Candida albicans, a yeast organism which has received considerable publicity in recent years, and Coccidioides immitis, a mold which causes "Valley Fever" in the Western United States.
Among the various medicinal properties of garlic, its effect on blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and blood coagulation have received the most interest. Studies have shown fresh garlic juice lowers cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, which helps prevent blood clotting and therefore heart attacks and strokes.
But not that many people are racing to swallow pure garlic juice, at the risk of keeping their social life at bay. I have conducted research that has shown garlic extracts are also effective in lowering blood cholesterol and triglycerides in the majority of subjects. Other researchers have since reported that garlic preparations can lower blood lipids, too.
Today we hear a lot about free radicals and antioxidants. More and more scientific studies have pointed a finger on free radicals, highly reactive unstable molecules that can attack cell membranes and genetic material within cells, the major cause of cancer, inflammatory and chronic degenerative diseases. High blood pressure and hardening of the arteries-the underlying causes of heart attacks and strokes-are believed to be caused by too many free radicals damaging the blood vessels. I have conducted studies that show garlic has free radical scavenging activity and amplifies the antioxidant systems in our bodies.
Chinese and Japanese researchers even have data showing that garlic restores memory loss and extends life, through its antioxidant effects.
Numerous population and laboratory studies have shown that garlic can help prevent cancer development. In China, researchers compared two counties in the Shandong Province. Residents of one county enjoyed the lowest death rate due to stomach cancer (3 in 100,000), while the second county had a thirteen-times higher stomach cancer death rate (40 in 100,000). What was the difference in these two counties? The residents of the first county regularly eat 20 grams of garlic daily, while the residents of the second county don't eat much garlic at all. Garlic lowers concentrations of nitrates, precursors of the carcinogen nitrosamine, in the stomach's gastric juice and protects against the development of stomach cancer.
Last year the American Journal of Epidemiology published results of the Iowa Woman's Study involving 41,837 women, which concluded that garlic lowers the risk of colon cancer.
It appears now that garlic may prevent certain cancers by possibly three mechanisms: directly affecting the growth of cancer cells, boosting immune cells to fight cancer (studies have shown garlic enhances immune functions), and inhibiting chemicals that promote cancer.
Garlic in Your Diet
If you already enjoy eating garlic as part of your diet, you will be pleased to know that there is actually scientific basis for doing so. How much garlic is enough to reap the benefits of this miracle bulb? One clove a day is about right. Cooked garlic is easier on the digestive system. Some people may have difficulty with eating raw garlic as it can be irritating to the intenstinal linings. For those who would prefer garlic without its pungent odor, garlic products and supplements are available at your supermarket or health food store.
Written by: Benjamin Lau
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