Q. For several years my cardiologist has had me on Lescol to lower my cholesterol. Lately I have noticed muscle pain and weakness that I think are tied to this drug. When I had my blood tested, my overall cholesterol was 146.

I worry about taking medicines and would prefer a more natural approach. I recently read that garlic can lower cholesterol and might even reduce my risk of prostate cancer. My uncle died a painful death from this disease and I would love to lower my risk. Is garlic really beneficial, and how much is enough? Do garlic pills work as well as fresh garlic?

A. New research from China (Journal of the National Cancer Institute: Nov. 6, 2002) indicates that men who get more garlic, onions and scallions in their diet appear less likely to develop prostate cancer. This effect was most noticeable when Chinese men ate at least one clove of garlic per day.

Garlic may have a modest effect on cholesterol reduction, but it can’t compete with drugs like Lescol. Please let your doctor know about your muscle problems.

Not all garlic pills are equally effective. A recent analysis of commercial products found wide variation in the active ingredient, allicin. If you’d like more details, you can find the report on the Internet at www.consumerlab.com.

Issues of quality control should be less of a problem if you stick with fresh garlic, onions or scallions.

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