Keep Arteries Healthy with Aged Garlic
People with heart disease or who are at risk of developing it may lower their risk of having a heart attack or stroke by consuming an aged garlic extract, according to a preliminary study in Preventive Medicine (2004;39:985–91). Aged garlic slows the progression of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), a known trigger for heart attacks.
Aged garlic extract is made by chopping up the cloves and placing them in alcohol for up to two years. This long fermentation process allows for many of the sulfur-containing substances (which give garlic its characteristic odor) to break down into hundreds of other nonodorous compounds. Several studies have shown that aged garlic extract is effective at lowering cholesterol, but this is one of the first studies to show it also helps slow atherosclerosis progression.
In the new study, 19 older adults with known heart disease or who were at high risk of developing heart disease were randomly assigned to consume 4 ml(four-fifths of a teaspoonful) per day of aged garlic extract or a similar amount of a placebo for one year in addition to cholesterol-lowering medications(known as “statins”) and aspirin therapy. Electron beam tomography (EBT), a noninvasive method of determining the amount of calcium that deposits in the artery wall (which is one measure of the severity of atherosclerosis), was performed initially and at the conclusion of the study. Blood levels of known risk factors for heart disease, including total cholesterol, HDL (“good”)cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, blood sugar, homocysteine, and C-reactive protein were measured periodically throughout. The amount of calcium deposition in coronary artery walls increased by 7.5% in those taking aged garlic extract, compared with a 22% increase in those taking a placebo. This shows that aged garlic extract can reduce the progression of atherosclerosis by 66% after one year of treatment, which may translate into a significant reduction in healthcare visits and mortality. No significant changes in total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, blood sugar, homocysteine, or C-reactive protein were observed between the two groups. However, a trend toward improvement in total and LDL cholesterol and homocysteine levels was observed in those taking aged garlic. Other larger and longer studies have shown that aged garlic extract significantly lowers cholesterol and homocysteine levels.
Studies have shown that statin medications, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor®), simvastatin (Zocor®), and pravastatin (Pravachol®), slow the progression of atherosclerosis by about 22%. However, the addition of aged garlic extract in the new study significantly enhanced the effectiveness of statin therapy by slowing the progression of atherosclerosis even further.
Aged garlic extract has many other known health benefits. It has been shown to be a potent antioxidant and prevents platelet aggregation, which makes it useful in treating intermittent claudication (pain in legs with exercise that is only relieved with rest). Additionally, some evidence indicates aged garlic extract may help stimulate the immune system and test tube studies have shown that aged garlic extract has anticancer properties. It is unknown whether aged garlic extract has the same anticancer effects in humans. Although aged garlic extract is generally considered safe, those with diabetes or who have had organ transplants should consult their healthcare provider before taking it.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima,2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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