Nutrition Notes: The Goods on Garlic

Whether you’re a garlic lover or not, you can’t dispute that fact that this “fragrant” little bulb has a lot to offer in the way of health benefits! One of the most widely cited health benefits attributed to garlic is that it can lower blood cholesterol. According to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine that compiled the results of 13 separate, well-controlled studies, garlic can lower blood cholesterol about 4 to 6 per cent. Other studies in which people also followed a cholesterol-lowering diet concluded that garlic offered no added benefit.

However, garlic may promote heart health without lowering blood cholesterol. Several studies show that garlic can decrease clotting tendencies, thus lowering risk of heart attack and stroke. According to the Journal of Nutrition proceedings of a research conference on garlic, test tube studies suggest that garlic may protect blood vessels by holding LDL cholesterol in a less damaging form, and by blocking changes in blood vessel walls.

Research continues to bolster the belief that garlic may also help prevent certain cancers. An overview of several studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that garlic lowers risk of colon cancer more than 30 per cent and reduces risk of stomach cancer almost 50 per cent. Several studies in recent years have also shown that substances in garlic can reduce growth of breast and colon cancer.

How can it be? Research shows that compounds in garlic alter body enzymes that activate or detoxify carcinogens, potentially blocking cancer development in many different parts of the body.

Studies generally show that about five cloves of raw or cooked garlic per week is enough to lower cancer risk 30 to 40 per cent, although some studies have shown similar drops in risk with even one clove a week.

A key point is that the amount of active ingredients in garlic varies, depending on how garlic is used. For example, cooking destroys one form of the substances it contains. But, if raw garlic that has just been chopped stands for 10 minutes before being cooked, the active compounds formed are not destroyed by heat. Supplements are another option. The main benefit here is that they don’t have the flavour or odour of fresh garlic that many people don’t like. Most garlic supplements also offer a consistent amount of the beneficial components. Whichever way you get your garlic, you’ll be doing yourself a lot of good!

“Nutrition Notes” is provided as a public service by the American Institute for Cancer Research, 1759 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009