Garlic — A Love Letter to Your Heart
By Matthew Budoff, M.D., UCLA
I’m always a little leery when I hear about herbs or supplements that have a dozen “wonderful” and “proven” effects, promising to cure everything from hangnails to cancer.
I was doubly cautious several years ago when a body of information began to surface about garlic, claiming it could prevent and cure everything from the common cold to heart disease and cancer.
I admit, my “snake oil” sensors went off.
But then I started to look at the published scientific literature and changed my mind.
I am a doctor, a cardiologist and a scientist. I look for proof.
And I have decided the vast benefits of garlic are supported by a large body of credible scientific research.
Studies show garlic can reduce artery-clogging plaque, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduce blood clotting and lower levels of homocysteine, a substance that contributes to arterial blockages and can be predictive of a heart attack.
There are more than 30 major studies showing garlic can reduce arterial plaque which can block arteries, causing heart attacks. Some of the studies were not blinded (the doctors or the patients knew what they were taking), so I began to do some of my own research on the effects of aged-garlic extract standardized to a specific potency.
I attended a symposium where scientists from around the world gathered to share their findings on garlic and health. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much science has been performed with garlic, and how much we can build upon one another’s work.
Keeping arteries open
In my own research conducted at UCLA, I found that, without treatment, the amount of calcification (sometimes called plaque) in the arteries of a person with elevated cholesterol can increase by 40% in one year. Over time, severe blockages or a heart attack becomes inevitable. Yet when my team and I gave patients 1200 mg. of aged-garlic extract every day, they slowed the growth of their plaque by 66% in one year.
All patients were on statin drugs, like Lipitor or Zocor, and
aspirin, so the benefits of garlic were above and beyond what most
doctors consider standard treatment for patients with high
Clearly, aged-garlic extract increased the power of these two known preventers of heart attacks. It may be that someday doctors can use aged-garlic extract along with lower doses of statin drugs, minimizing risks of the prescription drugs’ side effects.
Just to get a little perspective on this:
Given the rate of progression of plaque, those without the aged-garlic extract supplementation, even though they were on statin drugs and aspirin, increased their risk of a heart attack by 13-fold, while the progression rate of those on garlic is associated with only a 1.5-fold increase in their risk over those with no heart disease.
This is pretty good, considering all of these folks already had serious levels of arterial plaque.
So what does this mean to you?
It means that combining aged-garlic extract with other therapies, such as statin drugs and aspirin, may delay a heart attack for several years or even completely prevent it.
My research also confirmed the aged-garlic extract helped to lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol, raise HDL or “good” cholesterol, lower homocysteine levels and slow the steady rise of triglycerides that many heart patients experience.
German research showed similar findings: even in people with seriously-clogged arteries, just 900 milligrams of aged-garlic extract a day caused plaque to shrink by 2.6%, while clogging increased by 15.6% in those who didn’t take garlic.
There is a fascinating study from India that demonstrates the immediate power of garlic against fatty foods, which are known to raise cholesterol.
Researchers gave their subjects a breakfast that contained 3.5 ounces of butter (an amount that would make most doctors tear out their hair!).
Over the space of a few hours, that amount made blood cholesterol levels rise by about 10%.
However, subjects who were given a bit of garlic juice with the butter experienced no increase in cholesterol — so the garlic completely neutralized the harmful effects of the fatty foods.
This may be why many ethnic cuisines intuitively pair the garlic with all red meat and other fatty foods.
There is more German research to validate the value of garlic: compared to those who shun garlic, garlic eaters had 18.9% lower levels of trigylcerides, the dangerous blood fats that can lead to a heart attack.
Other research goes a step further: We found that supplementation with aged-garlic extract reduced the body’s ability to transform cholesterol to its bad, sticky form called (process called LDL oxidation) by as much as 58%, plus it reduced triglycerides or blood fats by as much as 19%.
Lower blood pressure
Garlic may help lower blood pressure slightly (6 to 8 points), probably by improving the elasticity of arteries. There have been seven studies documenting this effect, and, as your doctor has no doubt told you, every little bit helps!
One study showed people who took garlic had 43% fewer artery-clogging blood clots after just six months. Another study shows that aged-garlic extract lowered the rate at which blood cells clumped together by as much as 25% and improved their ability to slip through the arteries by as much as 58%.
Of course, if the blood passes easily through the arteries without clotting and without sticking to the arterial walls, there is less chance of an embolism or any other problems caused by blocked arteries.
Rein in homocysteine
Studies has shown that garlic supplementation can lower homocysteine levels by up to 35%.
High homocysteine levels, even if you don’t have high cholesterol, can be a risk factor for the development of a heart attack.
Recent studies suggest that high blood homocysteine levels are as important as high cholesterol in determining the risk of a heart attack.
The bottom line is abundantly clear: Garlic will help keep your cardiovascular system healthy. It can prevent heart disease and slow the progression of heart disease if you already have it.
What’s more, garlic is safe, even at large doses.
There are no documented side effects, even for people who like to eat loads of garlic.
You may have heard that garlic should not be used if you’re taking the blood thinner Coumadin because it can make your blood too thin, but new research had proven this is not true.
Finally, I am sure you noticed that my research, and many other studies, were conducted with aged-garlic extract. Sure, it’s fine to eat fresh garlic. I recommend it.
But unless you’re willing to eat several cloves of garlic a day and risk your social life, I recommend using odorless aged-garlic extract to be sure you are getting all of the antioxidant components you need to protect your heart.
The only aged-garlic extract available in the U.S. is sold under the brand name Kyolic.
You will probably want to take 1200 mg. a day (the dose we showed was effective), which you will get in just two capsules.
Return to the November/December Index page