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Garlic: How a Stinking Rose Can Prevent a Heart Attack or Stroke

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Posted Monday, Feb. 14th, 2011

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Each day, thousands of people gleefully walk out of their cardiologist’s office with a prescription in hand.  But, they are later shocked to discover that these are actually prescriptions for disaster.

You see, these prescriptions are most often for a statin drug to lower cholesterol or some type of blood thinner to help prevent stroke or other related blood-clotting health concern.

But how often do they tell you the myriad of horrendous side effects associated with these drugs, or how they rob your body of vital nutrients?

Or, worse yet, do they tell you that the condition they are treating you for (especially high cholesterol) isn’t even the REAL issue?

For years, the medical community has known that inflammation is the real culprit in heart disease.  However, they keep shelling out prescription after prescription to lower bad, evil cholesterol, all the while letting inflammation run rampant.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, they never tell you that there is a natural option to both treating cholesterol and preventing blood clots and stroke.  And they definitely won’t tell you that you can cook with this powerful substance or simply take it in supplement form.

What they may know (or maybe not!) and aren’t telling you is that this heart-saver is probably sitting in your kitchen cupboard right now.

It’s garlic…yep, garlic.

The Stinking Rose…

The humble garlic has been renowned for centuries for its medicinal properties.

In Egypt, garlic was used to enhance physical strength.  In ancient Greece, it was given as a laxative.  It was even nicknamed “Russian penicillin” due to its effectiveness as a topical antibiotic for battle wounds.

Even Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, wrote that garlic was excellent for curing tumors and was a good diuretic.

And you thought it was only good for fending off vampires!

The reality is this: Garlic has been credited with everything from cardiovascular benefits and cold prevention to protection from infectious disease and cancer.

But where does the truth — the scientific truth — lie?

Garlic’s Cardiovascular Benefits…

Research has shown that garlic has a myriad of cardiovascular benefits.   Specifically, it reduces cholesterol levels and helps reduce blood clots.

In one laboratory study from the Journal of Nutrition,1 researchers tested the effects of several garlic compounds to suppress the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.  The researchers explained that LDL oxidation is the real key to cardiovascular issues, as opposed to “native” or natural LDL cholesterol.

They found that garlic does, in fact, suppress LDL oxidation.  They went on to conclude: “Suppressed LDL oxidation may be one of the mechanisms that accounts for the beneficial effects of garlic in cardiovascular health.”

So, while garlic doesn’t wipe out LDL cholesterol (which is a good substance), it does keep it from turning bad…which is a good thing.

This is key, because despite what you’ve heard, cholesterol itself is not deadly.  It’s natural and without it you’d die; it’s the oxidation of cholesterol that causes the problem.

To better understand this, picture yourself making a fruit salad.  Chefs all over the world know that you need to sprinkle a little lemon or lime juice over the fruit to keep it from turning brown.

That “browning” is oxidation.  Before the fruit turns brown, it’s perfectly fine and delicious.  But once it browns, due to oxidation, it’s less desirable.

It’s the same with cholesterol.  Cholesterol itself is fine and quite necessary for many bodily functions, especially the creation of hormones.  However, once oxidation occurs, that cholesterol “goes bad.”  In this way, garlic is like the lemon juice.

By “sprinkling” it, you keep your cholesterol from “browning.”

Let’s Take a Closer Look at the Research…

Looking at additional research, in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study2, researchers divided men with high cholesterol into two groups.  For 10 months, one group took 7.2 grams of aged garlic extract while the other took a placebo.

By the end of the research study, researchers found that those taking the aged garlic extract had a 30 percent reduction in platelet adhesion to fibrinogen, as compared to the placebo group.  The garlic group also had less oxidation of their lipoproteins as compared to the placebo group.

All of this is medical jargon for saying that the garlic helped reduce the formation of blood clots and decreased the oxidation of cholesterol.

Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study had similar results3.  Researchers divided 34 healthy men and women into three groups.  One group received 2.4 grams of aged garlic extract, one received 7.2 grams, and the third received a placebo.

Researchers found that those taking 7.2 grams of garlic had significantly reduced platelet aggregation than those taking the lower dosage or placebo.  Again, reduced platelet aggregation means a lower risk for blood clots.

Finally, in a 2001 study from the Archives of Internal Medicine4, researchers decided to look at all of the research to date on garlic’s benefits to the cardiovascular system and to draw some broad conclusions as to it efficacy.

They combed 11 electronic databases, references, etc. dated from January 1966 through February 2000 and limited their research to randomized, placebo-controlled studies that were at least four weeks in duration.

They found that, as compared with a placebo, garlic helps to reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels when taken for one month or three months, but not at six months.  They also found that garlic helped to significantly reduce platelet aggregation.

Once again, garlic is shown to help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk for blood clots by reducing platelet aggregation.

Okay, we get it.  Garlic works.

The Power Within the Clove…

Now that we know that garlic helps reduce cholesterol levels, as well as your risk for blood clots, only one question remains: how does it do that?

Garlic contains 33 sulfur compounds, 17 amino acids, antioxidants such as germanium and selenium, and multiple vitamins and minerals.  However, out of all these beneficial chemical compounds, most researchers believe a substance called allicin is the key ingredient.

Allicin is also what gives garlic its “delightful” aroma.  In fact, allicin is the garlic’s own protection against insects and other pests.

It is this defense mechanism that has led some to call garlic “Mother Nature’s insecticide.”  However, the garlic needs to be damaged in some way (like cutting into it) for allicin to be produced.

Researchers have tried to create allicin isolates in order to help treat a wide variety of health conditions.  However, allicin itself is very unstable and has poor absorbability.

On the stability front, cooking, aging, crushing, and other forms of garlic processing cause allicin to break down into other compounds.  In fact, two studies5, 6 found that allicin decreased to non-detectable amounts within six days.

Additionally, stomach acid destroys allicin7, so the argument for taking allicin in isolation in supplement form is unfounded…unless you can somehow get it to bypass the stomach.  Enteric coating appears to help, but it has been found to reduce allicin production by nearly 40 percent8.

So, while allicin may play a role in the health benefits of garlic, it is far from the sole ingredient responsible for garlic’s medicinal powers.

The Best Form of Garlic…

According to research, both raw, cold-aged garlic, and cooked garlic are effective.

It’s easy to incorporate garlic into your daily meals,. Garlic is present in virtually every cuisine, including American, Latin, Chinese, and Indian food.

You can add it to your main course, along with onions and peppers, or sauté it with your favorite vegetables.  You can even roast it with olive oil and use in place of butter as a spread.

But if you opt to use garlic supplements, aim for at least 7.2 grams of aged garlic extract.

Be sure to choose a product that is free of preservatives, fillers, binders, excipients, flow agents, shellacs, coloring agents, gluten, yeast, lactose, and other allergens.  Ideally you’ll also be able to find independent analysis done by a third party to verify the active ingredients and identify any contaminants.

In addition to the famous odor (thanks allicin!), garlic does have a few other side effects.  Some people are allergic to garlic, while others may experience some stomach or intestinal upset, flatulence, or possible bleeding.

Also, because garlic helps to thin the blood, you should check with your doctor before using garlic if you are taking a prescription blood thinner.

Still, if you (and those around you) can handle the occasional bad breath or body odor caused by garlic, it seems to be an all-around heart protector.  So, go ahead and embrace that stinking rose.  Your body will thank you.

And remember, there is no magic bullet solution to improving your health.  The most effective action you can take is to make permanent changes to your lifestyle to include a diet of nutrient-dense, low glycemic-load whole foods.

References:

1Lau, BH.  “Suppression of LDL oxidation by garlic compounds is a possible mechanism of cardiovascular health benefits.” J Nutr.  206 Mar. 136 (3 Suppl):765S-768S.

2Steiner, M and Lin, RS.  “Changes in platelet function and susceptibility of lipoproteins to oxidation associated with administration of aged garlic extract.” J Cardiovasc Pharmacol.  1998 Jun. 31(6):904-8.

3Steiner, M and Li, W.  “Aged garlic extract, a modulator of cardiovascular risk factors: a dose-finding study on the effects of AGE on platelet functions.” J Nutr.  2001 Mar. 131(3s):980S-4S.

4Ackermann, RT et al.  “Garlic shows promise for improving some cardiovascular risk factors.” Arch Intern Med.  2001 Mar 26.161(6):813-24.

5Brodnitz, MH et al.  “Flavor components of garlic extract.” J Agr Food Chem.  1971. 19(2):273-5.

6Yu, TH and Wu, CM.  “Stability of allicin in garlic juice.” J Food Sci.  1989. 54(4):977-81.

7Lawson, LD and Hughes, BG.  “Characterization of the formation of allicin and other thiosulfinates from garlic.” Planta Med.  1992. 58:345-50.

8Freeman, F and Kodera, Y.  “Garlic chemistry: stability of s-(2-propenyl)-2-propene-1-sulfinothioate (allicin) in blood, solvents, and simulated physiological fluids.” J Agric Food Chem.  1995. 43:2332-8.

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