Thursday, March 01, 2007
Stinky vegetable stinks at lowering cholesterol
One of my favorite studies this week found that "garlic stinks" at lowering cholesterol levels. At least that's how the Stanford press release put it. Having grown up near Gilroy, California, the self-proclaimed "Garlic Capital of the World," I have fond memories of the early morning fragrance at harvest time, and I know that garlic is big business. A U.C. Davis publication says that each person in the United States ate an average 2.6 pounds of garlic in 2004, and that U.S. garlic exports exceeded $21 million in the same year.
Garlic's supposed health benefits have been widely touted, including claims that it lowers blood pressure, fights cancer, prevents heart disease and has antifungal properties. Unfortunately, many of the results have been produced only in animals and in Petri dishes.
The Stanford study sought to test in humans whether any of three different forms of garlic would lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels at least 10 points in people with moderately high LDL levels. Participants were fed sandwiches and tablets for six months, and they were required to maintain their weight and keep food logs, so that lower cholesterol couldn't be attributed to weight loss. They got the equivalent of one clove of garlic six times per week for six months. Some received placebos. After six months on the regimen, none of the garlic produced significant effects on LDL levels.
Senior study author Christopher Gardner said he was both surprised and disappointed. Had he proved that garlic lowered LDL, he imagined, he'd have been given the key to the city of Gilroy and proclaimed "garlic king" with a vanity license plate. He hasn't ruled out conducting clinical trials to study other medical uses for garlic - perhaps its power on blood pressure, cancer, or heart disease.
For now, Gardner says we shouldn't give up garlic-laced hummus, pesto or Asian stir fry. He notes that garlic can be part of basic healthy eating. It simply doesn't seem to lower your cholesterol.
I'm not giving up garlic, and I am not giving up on Gardner's dream of getting the key to Gilroy.
Have you tried garlic as a health supplement? Did you feel any benefits?
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