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Cardiovascular Benefits

Numerous studies have demonstrated potential benefits of regular garlic consumption on blood pressure, platelet aggregation, serum triglyceride level, and cholesterol levels. Routine eating of garlic may also help stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the lining of blood vessel walls, which may help to relax them. As a result of these beneficial actions, garlic can be described as a food that may help prevent atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, as well as reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

However, exactly which individuals are most benefited from garlic consumption remains a matter of some debate. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that garlic did not help lower LDL cholesterol in adults with moderately high (versus very high) levels when consumed at approximately one clove per day, six days per week, for 6 months. However, these researchers simultaneously concluded that garlic might still have cardiovascular benefits for these same individuals, even though it did not help lower their LDL levels. While more large-scale research studies are needed to determine the exact nature of garlic's benefits, this food can definitely be considered a potential ally in heart health.

A study published in Preventive Medicine shows that garlic inhibits coronary artery calcification, a process that serves as a marker for plaque formation since the body lays down calcium in areas that have been damaged. In this year-long study, patients given aged garlic extract daily showed an average increase in their calcium score of 7.5%, while those in the placebo group had an average increase in calcium score of 22.2%.

One reason for garlic's beneficial effects may be its ability to lessen the amount of free radicals present in the bloodstream. According to a study published in Life Sciences, a daily dose of 1 ml/kg body weight of garlic extract for six months resulted in a significant reduction in oxidant (free radical) stress in the blood of patients with atherosclerosis.

Since atherosclerotic plaques develop when cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream is damaged or oxidized, garlic's ability to prevent these oxidation reactions may explain some of its beneficial effects in atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases. A German study published in Toxicology Letters indicates that garlic also greatly reduces plaque deposition and size by preventing the formation of the initial complex that develops into an atherosclerotic plaque. Called "nanoplaque," it is formed when calcium binds to proteoheparan sulfate and then to LDL cholesterol. Garlic prevents the binding of calcium to proteoheparan sulfate, thus decisively inhibiting plaque generation.

Research presented at the 6th Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology held by the American Heart Association in Washington, D.C., suggests that garlic can help prevent and potentially reverse atherosclerotic plaque formation. The laboratory studies, conducted by well-known German scientist Professor Güautnter Siegel, M.D., from the University of Medicine in Berlin, Germany, found that use of powdered garlic over the time period, reduced the formation of nanoplaque (the first building blocks of atherosclerotic plaque) by up to 40% and reduced the size of the nanoplaque that did form by up to 20%.

Dr. Siegel's research shows that garlic acts in a manner similar to HDL ("good") cholesterol, which prevents the build-up of nanoplaques by hindering the docking of LDL ("bad" cholesterol) to its receptor sites in blood vessels or existing plaques.

Both garlic and HDL were able to reduce plaque formation and size within 30 minutes of incubation in these experiments. Existing plaques were dissolved by up to 25% within 15 minutes after the garlic was introduced, indicating a reversal of existing problems related to build-up of arterial plaque. In addition, calcification of the cholesterol docking sites in the arteries was reduced by up to 50% in the presence of the garlic extracts.

New Modern Research Fully Explains Garlic's Cardiovascular Benefits

Laboratory research by US and Swedish scientists published in the August 2005 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals the mechanism behind garlic's cardiovascular benefits.

The compounds in garlic, responsible for its pungency, also excite a neuron pathway providing cardiovascular benefits. Garlic's pungency-and that of the other members of the Alliumgenus of plants, such as onions, leeks and chives-results from its organosulphur compounds, allicin and diallyl disulphide (DADS). In this current in vitro study, allicin and DADS were found to activate perivascular sensory nerve endings, inducing the relaxation and enlargement of blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow throughout the body.

Garlic's numerous beneficial cardiovascular effects are due to not only its sulfur compounds, but also to its vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium and manganese:

Garlic is a very good source of vitamin C, the body's primary antioxidant defender in all aqueous (water-soluble) areas, such as the bloodstream, where it protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation. Since it is the oxidized form of LDL cholesterol that initiates damage to blood vessel walls, reducing levels of oxidizing free radicals in the bloodstream can have a profound effect on preventing cardiovascular disease. We have explained this process in Vitamin C section in very detail.

Garlic's vitamin B6 helps prevent heart disease via another mechanism: lowering levels of homocysteine. An intermediate product of an important cellular biochemical process called the methylation cycle, homocysteine can directly damage blood vessel walls.

The selenium in garlic not only helps prevent heart disease, but also provides protection against cancer and heavy metal toxicity. A cofactor of glutathione peroxidase (one of the body's most important internally produced antioxidants), selenium also works with vitamin E in a number of vital antioxidant systems. Since vitamin E is one of the body's top defenders in all fat-soluble areas, while vitamin C protects the water-soluble areas, garlic, which contains both nutrients, does a good job of covering all the bases.

Garlic is rich not only in selenium, but also in another trace mineral, manganese, which also functions as a cofactor in a number of other important antioxidant defense enzymes, for example,  superoxide dismutase. Studies have found that in adults deficient in manganese, the level of HDL (the "good form" of cholesterol) is decreased.

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Level III-3 evidence shows that consuming a half to one clove of garlic daily may have a cholesterol-lowering effect of up to 9%.

Anti-Inflammatory, Antibacterial and Antiviral Activity

Garlic, like onions, contains compounds that inhibit lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase, (the enzymes that generate inflammatory prostaglandins and thromboxanes), thus markedly reducing inflammation. These anti-inflammatory compounds along with the vitamin C in garlic, especially fresh garlic, make it useful for helping to protect against severe attacks in some cases of asthma and may also help reduce the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition, allicin, one of the sulfur-compounds responsible for garlic's characteristic odor, is a powerful antibacterial and antiviral agent that joins forces with vitamin C to help kill harmful microbes. In research studies, allicin has been shown to be effective not only against common infections like colds, flu, stomach viruses, and Candida yeast, but also against powerful pathogenic microbes including tuberculosis and botulism.


Although garlic alone appears unable to prevent infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), the bacterium responsible for most peptic ulcers, as well as gastritis, frequently eating this richly flavored bulb may keep H. pylori from doing much damage. A study recently conducted at Faith University in Istanbul, Turkey, compared two groups of healthy individuals: one was selected from individuals who regularly ate lots of raw and/or cooked garlic, while the other group was composed of individuals who avoided it. For 19 months, blood samples were regularly collected from both groups and evaluated for the presence of H.pylori. While the incidence of H.pylori was pretty comparable-the bacterium was found in 79% of garlic eaters and 81% of those who avoided garlic. The garlic consuming group had a clear advantage in that antibodies to H.pylori were much lower in their blood compared to those who ate no garlic. (Antibodies are formed when the immune system reacts to anything it considers a potential pathogen, so less antibodies to H.pylori means less of the bacterium was present.) Among those who ate garlic, those who ate both raw and cooked garlic had even lower levels of antibodies than those who ate their garlic only raw or only cooked.

Laboratory studies recently conducted at the University Of Munich, Germany, help explain why garlic may be such a potent remedy against the common cold. In these studies, garlic was found to significantly reduce the activity of a chemical mediator of inflammation called nuclear transcription factor (NF) kappa-B.

Promotes Weight Control

The most potent active constituent in garlic, allicin, has been shown to not only lower blood pressure, insulin and triglycerides in laboratory animals fed a fructose (sugar)-rich diet, but also to prevent weight gain, according to a study published in the American Journal of Hypertension. In this study, animals that developed high insulin levels, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides were given either allicin or served as a control. Despite the fact that all of the animals consumed the same amount of food, weight rose in the control group but not in animals that were being supplemented with allicin. In those groups, body weight remained stable or declined slightly when allicin was given. The researchers concluded that allicin may be of practical value for weight control.




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