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Verdict's Still Out on Benefits of Garlic

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Several readers have asked about the benefits of garlic. Is it as good as its reputation? And to derive any benefits, do you need to eat it fresh, or do the supplements suffice?

A common claim is that garlic reduces cholesterol. But there is lingering controversy among experts over whether that is true.

The American Dietetic Association reports on its Web site that in a review of 18 studies, it was found that garlic can help lower cholesterol, and keep blood thin, if you consume five or more cloves a day. Garlic supplements did not produce the same results.

In a recent statement on garlic research, Stanford University Medical Center noted that several studies in the 1970s and 1980s claimed to prove the cholesterol-lowering effect of garlic, but those studies were later criticized for poor design. More rigorous studies in the 1990s found that garlic offered little to no benefit.

The National Institutes of Health is funding a three-year study at the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention intended to set the record straight on the effect of garlic on cholesterol.

There are further claims that garlic helps reduce blood pressure and the risk of certain cancers.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that some studies provide evidence that garlic and its components "are effective inhibitors of the cancer process."

Garlic's active ingredient is an enzyme called allicin. The allicin is released by chewing or mincing fresh garlic. If you're taking a pill, there's a question as to whether you're getting the allicin.

As a folk remedy, garlic dates at least as far back as the ancient Egyptians. In a newsletter last year, Dr. Andrew Weil noted that garlic supposedly gave the Egyptians strength as they built the pyramids.

Last month, National Public Radio aired an interview with Chester Aaron, a garlic farmer in California.

"If you're worried about the aromatic aftereffects of eating raw garlic, chew raw parsley or other such grains," Aaron told NPR. "It works in my mouth. It might work in yours."

Just so you know, garlic supplements can interact negatively with anti-coagulant drugs, or with blood pressure or anti-HIV medications. Check with your doctor. Complications especially could arise if you're going into surgery.


(Diane Evans is a staff writer at the Akron Beacon Journal. Though she has researched the information in this column, she has no training in medicine or science. Readers should consult carefully with their physicians before relying on anything in the column. If you have questions or suggestions for Evans, contact her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640, or by e-mail at


(c) 2003, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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