Garlic confirmed as heart protector

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SCIENTISTS may have come a step further in unravelling the reasons why the 'Mediterranean diet', high in fresh fruit and vegetables and wine but low in dairy fats, protects against heart disease.

The importance of garlic, used in bouillabaisse and Bolognese sauce, may have been underestimated.

According to Oxford researchers, fresh garlic or garlic supplements can reduce blood cholesterol levels significantly for weeks at a time after a month of supplementing the diet with garlic therapy.

Garlic has been subjected to scientific studies since the 1970s, but often trials have been small, poorly designed and disregarded.

Dr Andrew Neil, lecturer and consultant physician at Oxford University's Department of Public Health and Primary Care, and senior research fellow Christopher Silagythey analysed 16 of the best-run garlic trials covering 952 people.

There was only one adverse side effect. The smell. On the largest trial 16 per cent of the participants who ate dried garlic tablets complained, compared with 5 per cent on a placebo preparation.

They found dried garlic powder preparations reduced blood cholesterol by 8 per cent while fresh garlic, garlic extract or garlic oil reduced it by 15 per cent.

Dr Neil says in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London that they cannot presume that the cholesterol lowering powers of garlic in the end reduce the risk of heart disease. More trials are needed to tease this out.

Garlic, Allium sativum, has been used by herbalists since 1500BC and modern herbals give so many uses for it as to make its powers seem fantastical. It is listed as a preventive against dysentry and typhoid. It is antispasmodic, antiseptic, diuretic and expectorant.

Contemporary studies have tended to confirm its effects on blood fats, on blood thinning and in mopping up undesirable chemical products.