Heart Health

11 February 2010

Garlic good for the heart

For decades, the widespread use of antibiotics has led us to ignore the health benefits of garlic. But recently, interest in garlic, and its effects on the heart, has peaked again.


For centuries, people have used garlic as both food and medicine – and, of course, to ward off vampires.

But although modern research hasn't yet confirmed that rubbing garlic on doorknobs and window frames can protect us from vampires or evil spirits, it has confirmed what our ancestors believed about the health benefits of this herb: it can protect us from many ailments.

Unfortunately, for several decades, the widespread use of antibiotics has led us to ignore the medical properties of garlic. Lately, however, interest in garlic has peaked again and new research is focusing on the role garlic plays in the prevention and control of heart disease.

Here's how it works:

1. Garlic can lower your blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the health conditions in which garlic treatment brings the fastest results. Studies suggest that garlic dilates blood vessel walls, increasing the diameter of the arteries. Garlic also helps prevent high blood pressure by stopping blood cells from sticking together.

In a clinical trial, the subjects ingested standardised garlic powder capsules for four years. The results showed a 9 to 18 percent reduction in plaque volume and a 7 percent decrease in blood pressure. This resulted in an increase in the diameter of the arteries by 4 percent, which is associated with an 18 percent improvement of blood flow. These effects of garlic resulted in a risk reduction for heart attacks and strokes by more than 50 percent.

2. Garlic can lower your blood cholesterol

Studies indicate that populations that eat garlic consistently have the lowest levels of blood cholesterol. Pennsylvania State University showed that men with high total blood cholesterol were able to lower its concentration by 7 percent and LDL, the bad cholesterol, by 10 percent when taking garlic supplements. The study indicated that the sulfur compounds in garlic were responsible for the results, especially S-allylcysteine, which prevents the formation of cholesterol by the liver.

3. Garlic can lower your blood platelets

Platelets are tiny cells in the blood that, when arteries get damaged, rush to the lesion site to repair them. They become sticky and form a clot. Unfortunately, although platelets are essentially good, these clots are the first step towards the formation of a thrombus, i.e. an accumulation of platelets and protein. A thrombus may in time obstruct the flow of blood in the blood vessels.

Studies have shown that small doses of garlic can prevent platelets from becoming sticky and piling up together. In a study carried out by Liverpool John Moores University, the subjects experienced a reduction of platelet stickiness after ingesting 5ml of garlic extract per day for 13 weeks.

4. Garlic can reduce plaque in the arteries

Plaque starts to form when arteries are damaged. It's made up of mounds of fat and debris deposited in the wall of the arteries that reduce the space available for blood to circulate. Plaque keeps growing and with time may block the flow of blood in the arteries.

One study showed that continuous intake of high doses of garlic powder capsules for four years reduced the plaque volume by 5 to 18 percent. It's also a fact that most people between 50 and 80 years of age have an increase in the amount of plaque. During the four years this study lasted, the volume of plaque remained constant in people within this age frame, demonstrating that garlic has a preventive as well as a curative role in terms of heart disease.

5. Garlic is an antioxidant

Garlic has been shown to protect blood vessels from the destructive effects of free radicals. Ankara University of Turkey conducted a study to investigate the effects of garlic extract on the oxidation of red blood cells.

For six months, 11 patients with atherosclerosis ingested a daily dose of 1ml of garlic extract per kilogram of body weight. The study showed a reduction in the level of oxidation of red blood cells in the patients.

Extracting the medicinal properties

To get the medicinal properties of fresh garlic, you must follow several steps (a “protocol”, as I call it) before consuming it. Here's what you need to do:

  • Peel the cloves.
  • Cut them in small pieces.
  • Crush them in a mortar.
  • After you've crushed the garlic, let it sit uncovered in the mortar for 10 or 15 minutes before you put it in the food. This allows the formation of allicin, a compound necessary to unleash the medicinal properties of garlic.

- (Emilia Klapp/Health24, July 2008)

About the Author:
Emilia Klapp has a bachelor in Nutrition Science, is certified as a registered dietician by the American Dietetic Association and is the author of “Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet”. For more information about the author and the book and to get a FREE list of the 10 Top Mediterranean Curative Foods, go to www.EmiliaKlapp.com.


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