Garlic does not lower cholesterol: study
CHICAGO – Eating garlic raw or in supplement form does not lower “bad” cholesterol levels, despite widespread health claims for the pungent plant bulb, researchers said on Monday.
“It just doesn’t work,” said Christopher Gardner of the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California. “There’s no shortcut. You achieve good health through eating healthy food. There isn’t a pill or an herb you can take to counteract an unhealthy diet.”
Some of the claims that garlic lowers cholesterol emanate from laboratory experiments but there is no proof it reacts in the body the same way, Gardner wrote in the Archives of Internal Medicine. In test tubes and some animal subjects the compound released from crushed garlic, allicin, has been found to inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol.
But in Gardner’s study of 192 subjects who had slightly elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol that tends to clog arteries, garlic had no impact.
“Our study had the statistical power to see any small differences that would have shown up, and we had the duration to see whether it might take a while for the effect of the garlic to creep in. We even looked separately at the participants with the highest versus the lowest LDL cholesterol levels at the start of the study, and the results were identical,” Gardner said.
The participants’ cholesterol levels ranged from 130 milligrams per deciliter of blood to 190 milligrams — any higher and their doctors would have prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, he said. The study’s funding came from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The participants were divided into four groups: one ate a clove of garlic six days a week, usually in a gourmet sandwich prepared for them; two other groups consumed the equivalent amount of garlic either in a popular garlic supplement pill or powder, one of which advertised itself as “aged” garlic that removed the bad-breath problem; and the other group consumed a placebo.
Gardner said other health claims ascribed to garlic — that it strengthens the body’s immune system and combats inflammation and cancer — needed to be studied, too.
Garlic’s healthy reputation goes back to the ancient Egyptians, and it was widely consumed by the Greeks and Romans. Its juice has also been used as an antiseptic. Its assumed benefits may have something to do with it growing wild around the Mediterranean, where diets are often rich in healthy olive oil, fish, nuts and fruit.
Garlic can be helpful in spicing up healthy dishes, such as stir fry or Mediterranean salads, Gardner said.
“But if you choose garlic fries as a cholesterol-lowering food, then you blew it,” he said.