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Garlic prevents heart disease, study shows

FDA Health Claim Will Be Sought
Garlic is the next ?it? herb. It can not only prevent, but also reverse the signs of arteriosclerosis, according to a study presented at the 6th Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology in Washington, D.C., last week.

?That [garlic] is able not only to reduce the buildup of plaque but also to reverse existing plaque is really revolutionary,? said Joerg Gruenwald, Ph.D., president of Berlin?s Phytopharm Consulting, and author of the Physician?s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicine. Because of the strength of the results and garlic?s history of safety, he said, several principals from the herbal supplements industry would seek a health claim from the Food and Drug Administration. ?FDA should look at our data and give garlic a real health claim in the reduction of risk for coronary heart disease,? he said.

Dr. Gunter Siegel, director of the department of physiology at Charit? University of Medicine in Berlin, found that a low dose of Kwai garlic inhibits the formation of nanoplaque—the substance that develops in the earliest stages of arteriosclerotic disease and eventually clogs arterial walls—by 15 percent, even when all the factors normally responsible for such blocking are present.

?With a higher concentration ? it goes to 30 percent,? Siegel said. In addition, when plaques do develop ?they are even smaller??5 percent smaller at low doses of garlic, with further reduction at higher doses. ?So the plaques which are formed are not only less in number but also less in size,? he said.

The effect was observed whether the plaques were induced by high levels of LDL cholesterol or by lipoprotein(a), a component of LDL. Garlic?s plaque-busting effects were even more pronounced, however, on lipoprotein(a)-induced plaque, with 40 percent reduction in plaque development and 20 percent reduction in size. Garlic also reduced calcium binding—another factor in plaque development—by 50 percent.

Arterial plaque formation can lead to heart disease and strokes.

Garlic isn?t the only substance, however, that inhibits plaque formation. ?Normally,? Siegel said, the good cholesterol ?HDL helps to hinder nanoplaque in the same way garlic acts. ? So garlic can be called a phyto-HDL.?

Chicken soup for the herbalist?s soul
In a news conference preceding last week?s medical convention, experts noted garlic?s many traditional uses as well as its safety. Dr. Fred Pescatore, medical director of the AHCC Research Association in Rye, N.Y., noted garlic has also shown promise for ?altering the course of infectious diseases because it can be used as an antibacterial agent or antiviral agent.? Pescatore said garlic has also been shown in some studies to decrease high blood sugar, boost metabolism, inhibit growth and formation of cancer cells, prevent inflammation, and alleviate allergies and asthma. ?It?s one of the most versatile plants,? Pescatore said. ?Some call it the chicken soup of the plant world.?

?Its use has been documented over 5,000 years,? said Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council based in Austin, Texas. Additionally, ABC has evaluated data from more than 30 clinical trials involving more than 45,000 subjects. ?All but three of these trials showed some positive benefit for garlic in cardiovascular and arterial health, for cancer, building immunity and for other circulatory matters,? said Blumenthal. ?A federal government agency has ? concluded that garlic preparations may have small, positive, short-term effects on various parameters.? He noted that aside from rare cases of stomach upset—?and of course there is the characteristic change in the odor of skin and breath?—no adverse side effects have been reported, save some interactions with specific medications, including the blood thinner Coumadin, the anti-inflammatory drug Indomethacin, and insulin. ?Even the World Health Organization recognizes the general safety of garlic when used medicinally.?

Unfortunately, Pescatore noted, to derive its health benefits, a person would have to eat enormous quantities of garlic daily. The most efficient way of getting adequate and standardized amounts is by taking a nutritional supplement of garlic extract, he said. Many garlic extracts also are smell-free. He emphasized the importance of using a product that has ?all the components of the raw bulb, not just the allicin components,? (such as the Kwai extract that Siegel used in his study) and recommended divided doses totaling 2,400 to 3,400 mg per day depending on the condition it was being used to treat. ?It?s worth trying before a patient gets started on any pharmaceutical medication.?

Gruenwald suggested that people should begin taking garlic in their 20s or 30s, when arteriosclerotic plaque buildup is starting, long before people feel any symptoms. ?We believe that garlic really is a preventive measurement for heart disease.?

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