garlic, Lyme bacteria

Q. As a physician I usually enjoy your column. But I have some serious questions about your claims about garlic.

What is the evidence that “Egyptian physicians used garlic”? You have stated that as if it were fact? Is there any actual record of this? Even if they did, is that a good reason for us to use it? How do you know that garlic can help prevent blood clots or that it has cancer fighting properties?

I enjoy the flavor of garlic in my food, but I am skeptical about its ability to prevent cancer or heart attacks. Please back up your statements.

A. The Ebers Papyrus from 1550 BC mentions 22 herbal remedies containing garlic. Hippocrates prescribed it for a wide variety of ailments including chest pain.

Just because Egyptians and Greek healers used it doesn’t necessarily mean it has medicinal value. Modern studies show, however, that this flavorful herb contains chemicals with anti-platelet action (Pharmacology, online, Jan. 28, 2009). As a physician you understand that such activity reduces the risk of blood clots that could cause heart attacks.

Garlic and Cardiovascular Health:

A study published in the journal Nutrition (Sept, 2014) demonstrated that an aged garlic extract:

“reduced atherogenic markers and thus may have a cardioprotective effect beyond the gold standard medication in patients with mild hypercholesterolemia.”

An article titled “Role of Nutraceutical in Hypolipidemic Therapy” published in the journal Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine (May, 2015) noted:

“Overall, garlic, even without a significant lipid-lowering effect, could have other protective effects on the cardiovascular system for its ability to reduce blood pressure and platelet aggregation, but this needs to be better investigated in large controlled trials.”

Another article titled “Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases by Garlic-Derived Sulfur Compounds” published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Jan. 8, 2016) concluded:

“Taken together, garlic may prevent thrombus formation [blood clots] during CVD [cardiovascular disease] through different mechanisms involving anti platelet, vasodilative, lipid-lowering, and anti-atherosclerotic effects.”

Garlic vs. Cancer

In the test tube, garlic blocks tumor promotion. Epidemiology in China shows that when it is part of the diet cancer incidence drops dramatically. A review of the potential therapeutic effects of garlic in Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine (Jan-Feb. 2014) concluded that:

“…garlic may be the most potent food having cancer preventive properties. Garlic has a variety of anti-tumor effects, including tumor cell growth inhibition and chemopreventive effects.”

To maximize the anti-cancer effect, it should be crushed or chopped at least 10 minutes before it is cooked.

Action Against Parasites:

Leishmaniasis is a nasty infection from a protozoan parasite Leishmania. Biting flies can spread this disease and it is challenging to treat. An article in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (online, Dec. 30, 2015) offered this:

“The current drugs for treatment of leishmaniasis possess many disadvantages; therefore, researchers are continuously looking for the more effective and safer drugs. The aim of this study is to review the effectiveness, toxicities, and possible mechanisms of pharmaceutical actions of different garlic extracts and organosulfur compounds isolated from garlic against Leishmania spp. in a variety of in vitro, in vivo and clinical trials reports…In summary, garlic with immunomodulatory effects and apoptosis induction contributes to the treatment of leishmaniasis.”

The Bottom Line:

We think garlic represents an amazing addition to the diet. We prefer it fresh in food, but some people cannot tolerate the taste or the smell, so an extract may be worthwhile for them.

We have only scratched the surface of the potential benefits of garlic. Research is ongoing and we may yet learn that it has antibacterial, anti fungal and anti diabetic activity. Since it cannot be patented it is highly unlikely that any drug company will spend money to demonstrate to your satisfaction the healing power of garlic. Nevertheless, we think there is a LOT of goodness in garlic!

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  1. Robert B

    I think the doctor is right. Garlic will do more harm than good and it makes people I know stink really badly & then they blame it on you but they are really smelling themselves and don’t know it. When it ruins your stomach then you go to the (doctor) for something to cure your stomach. A very little garlic may be good for you but not the amount that you people are taking.

  2. Tangky
    Winston Salem, NC

    I can attest to the healing powers of Garlic!!!! I have type 2 Diabetes and I had constant yeast infections due to uncontrolled blood sugars. My yeast infections were so terrible that I had severe cuts and was in constant pain. I read online about treating my condition by eating crush Garlic. I consumed three tablespoons of raw, crushed Garlic four times a day with a pint of warm lemon water for three days. The infection went away completely!!!! This worked better than monistat, diflucan, anything that I was ever prescribed!! I had issues with high blood pressure and taking three tablespoons of raw, crush garlic three times a day for three weeks dropped my blood pressure from 189/96 to 134/86. I had an abscess in the roof of my mouth and I could literally feel the infection around my tooth. I took a tablespoon of raw, crush garlic by mouth three times a day for 5 days, my abscess went away. I can only give my experiences with using garlic and I can truly say that it heals the body!

  3. JimP
    Winchester, VA

    Garlic is a rich source of fructooligosaccharides, which is a prebiotic that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. So it is possible (likely?) that garlic may have health benefits beyond anything we or the Egyptians imagined.

  4. Mary

    The skeptical doc should try some. I have used garlic for at least 20 years to ward off a developing cold. It works 9 times out of 10 if I use the garlic as soon as the symptoms begin. And what people also don’t know is that simmering garlic for 12 to 15 minutes softens the taste and smell so it is on the level of a cooked onion.

    Here’s my current favorite recipe. Pour an 11.5 oz can of V8 into a sauce pan. Add a ½ cup of water. Turn on high to get boiling. Chop up at least 6 large cloves of fresh garlic. Throw them in the pan. Add juice of one lemon and as much hot pepper as you can comfortably stand. Bring to a boil, turn down to simmer on low and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes.

    I drink half when I make it and half the next day, chewing on the garlic as I eat it. It is not a harsh or burning taste.

    From my own experience, I know of no other thing that has such an amazing record of preventing a developing cold.
    Some people do not tolerate fresh garlic and I have no recipe for garlic pills etc. Maybe someone can contribute theirs.
    Sign me… no colds in a long long time as I nip them in the bud.. a garlic bud

    Anyhow, if you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it.

  5. Mary

    I just wish garlic did not have such a strong odor in some people after consumption.
    I used to give a woman a ride on Sunday mornings. She smelled so strongly that I asked her not to use garlic before getting a ride.

    I suspect anyone in an office smelling so strongly would get talked to by management.

    I wonder if capsules would make a difference?

  6. Lisa

    Garlic is amazing, along with other natural food items that have been around for so long. No side effects. Old school treatment that was a divine creation no doubt. Before the influx of prescription drugs, our grandparents and great grand parents utilized the vast array of natural alternatives from God’s pharmacy. I scratch my head at the narrow mindness of western therapy today. Treat a symptom with a drug. Thus begins a slow and gradual decline in health ultimaely causing an early death. I have a dear and close friend who is 70 years of age; and she takes NO Prescriptions. Imagine that. We live in a word of quick fixes and convenience. Go that route if you choose. I don’t plan on it. Emergency medicine is wonderful but to become reliant on a drug for a chronic condition is just wrong. Fix the source of the symptom rather than putting a bandaid on it.

  7. Jan
    Blue Bell, PA

    Excellent! Thank you for the links to recent studies they’re very helpful.

  8. Jim

    I love “Skeptics”, the “doubting” Thomas’s of today.

    Do Italians, high users of Garlic, have a lower incidence of cancer?

  9. Virginia
    Lexington, VA

    I have always believed that garlic was good for me, although not being a research scientist I cannot know this with certainty. I have enjoyed it raw or cooked in food for over half a century. Unfortunately, I have recently discovered that garlic and onions now give me indigestion, and so have had to eliminate them from my diet. In general, I think it is a mistake to zero in on one food or ingredient in a food and pin one’s hopes on it. A well-balanced diet, exercise and plenty of friends and laughter go a long way towards keeping us healthy. Thanks for all your fascinating articles. I read them all.

  10. Margaret

    I have been using garlic as an antibiotic for so many years that I can’t remember where I first heard about it. But the original instructions stated that the garlic clove should be raw, chopped up and let sit for 10 min. to release the healthy properties. We swallow it with a teaspoon of yogurt or applesauce as raw garlic can be quite “hot” on the tongue. The garlic needs to be taken 4 times a day just as one would take a medical antibiotic and continued for a least two days after the last sign of any of your symptoms. It also seems to work best if started at the first sign of a cold or flu and not wait until it’s fully entrenched.

    I can’t tell you how often I have stopped cold or flu symptoms in their tracks completely or reduced the symptoms with this practice. We also tried using it when a cut became infected & seemed to be getting worse, and the redness starting going away the next day after starting the garlic regime. One time as a precaution I did go to a doctor & got a prescription for an antibiotic but waited to see if the garlic would work and never did have the prescription filled. But we have only used garlic this way twice & recently so I cannot say for sure that this is what did the trick.

    My husband & I also take raw garlic once a day three times a week as a precaution and for it’s healthy properties. I have a friend who I told about garlic many years ago; he takes it every single day, and he “claims” he has not had a cold for 20 years. I cannot verify that.

    For anyone concerned about “garlic breath” from this practice a TB of liquid chlorophyll in some water every day it is being consumed may take care of that problem.

    • Randolph Scott

      I truly appreciate the good folk’s comments, but it is irritating to have to ask “In what quantities are they talking. A person said “take three or four times a day” How much? A teaspoon, tablespoon, a cup? This happens frequently

  11. Mary

    Good answer!

  12. Ebm

    Poor, stuck doctor!
    In the early seventies I found a booklet, “Nature’s Medicines” that among other wonderful remedies, talked about the healing virtues of garlic used in Hungary, Russia and many countries. They called it Russian Penicillin, the real penicillin was only used in life threatening situations in those days. We were given sulfa lozenges for tonsilitis. At 29 yrs I was given my FIRST EVER antibiotic and have had problems since (now 76). In 1974, after continued antibiotic use, I got staph in my throat. Bought garlic gel caps, took 2 or 3 every three hrs and after three days felt good enough to go skiing for the weekend. Took the pills for a while and the staph never returned.

  13. Diane

    Thank you for your kind and professional response to the “skeptical” doctor. I agree with your conclusion that garlic has a LOT of goodness in it for us!!

    • dodie

      I also agree with the Garlic conversation…
      I too believe that Garlic is good for us, and certainly does add to many dishes….I really do enjoy my PASTA and without Garlic then they have no taste…

  14. Sara
    Houston, TX

    Kudos all around! To the traditional medical professional for keeping up with information that Peoples Pharmacy provides and for asking for more information; to Terry and Joe for keeping abreast of everything out there and for being able to provide resources. The Peoples Pharmacy publications are my first go-to resource for medical conditions. I prefer to go the natural way first and then resort to the medical machine if I have to.

  15. dora

    is the minced garlic that stores have in jars, also as effective as fresh garlic. thank you, in advance

  16. Marianne

    An review of the geographical/cultural groups that use garlic and the incidence of various diseases in that population might provide better insight into the benefits of certain herbs and foods than the lengthy trials -and inability to isolate and compound certain curative properties-that accompany the scientific method. Nothing-no method-should be overlooked or diminished in importance-we are in infant in the diagnosis and cure of disease.
    There is a cure on the face of this earth for every disease -we have a lot of work to do.

  17. Vicky

    When I took garlic extracts — before bed, as advised for the taste in the mouth — I suddenly starting having nightmares almost every night. I didn’t make the connection until I ran out of the supplement. When I bought more and had a vivid nightmare the night I took the supplement again, I made the connection and realized I’d had no nightmares on garlic-free days. Even now, though I don’t worry about eating garlic in cooking occasionally, every time I have a nightmare, I will think back to what I ate the day before, and every single time I have had garlic in some form.
    I wonder how many people have nightmares caused by a disturbance brought on by a food or supplement and they haven’t made the connection?

    • Gary

      Yup, having the same problem with the vivid dreaming and nightmares myself. Taking aged-garlic extract tot help battle chronic sinusitis. Going to try to take it earlier in the day to see if it makes any difference. Good luck to you.

    • Mariel
      New Mexico

      Thank you! I will start to pay attention to what I ate before the nightmare occurred.

  18. Sonia
    Londonderry. N, Ireland.

    Brilliant response..

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