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  health > diet & fitness > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Garlic and 'bad' cholesterol

September 14, 1999
Web posted at: 11:17 AM EDT (1517 GMT)

By James Balch, M.D.

(WebMD) -- People feel strongly about garlic. They either love its lingering aroma or hate its pungent odor. It's no wonder, then, that folkloric shamans prescribed a necklace of garlic to ward off vampires.

Love it or hate it, garlic may help protect your body from more than a mythic pair of sharp teeth.

Even ancient practitioners recognized its beneficial qualities. More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates, father of diagnostic medicine, listed garlic as a worthwhile treatment. Today scientists know from a battery of studies that garlic contains several properties that may keep the cardiovascular system healthy. Garlic is particularly effective against low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), the "bad" cholesterol that can damage the arteries and threaten the heart.

Without getting too technical, tiny LDLs can form plaque on the arterial walls after they have been oxidized by "free radicals," renegade molecules in the body that damage the cells and provoke disease. When this happens, special cells migrate to the area and start gobbling up the LDLs. Eventually, these cells eat so much that they become "foam cells," which are deposited in arteries as plaque. The plaque, in turn, can create atherosclerosis, blockages that lead to heart attack and stroke.

Garlic is such a great antioxidant that it stops the creation of these foam cells by acting early on in the process, preventing free radicals from oxidizing the LDLs.

Clinical research also shows that garlic may encourage the formation of "good" cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), which are too large to stick to artery walls. Instead, the HDLs help to sweep out LDLs as they flow through the system and clean out the LDLs already creating plaque on the arteries.

Like aspirin, garlic has certain qualities that thin the blood. By preventing platelets from banding together, garlic may keep the circulatory system healthy. Garlic can do this without any of the discomfort or other problems associated with aspirin.

For the same reason, garlic may help a person who is feeling weak get back on his or her feet. By improving circulation, garlic can allow a person to get the exercise he or she needs, which in turn can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Garlic may also be useful in preventing other problems. Several scientific studies have shown that garlic may eliminate many of the symptoms associated with yeast infections, which include fatigue, disorientation and depression. But be careful! Yeast infections can erupt after lying dormant for years and be accompanied by other medical problems. You may need to stop consuming alcohol and eliminate sugary foods, yeast and mold from your diet. Be sure to consult a physician in the case of a yeast infection.

With exercise and a good diet, garlic may also help reduce body fat, one of the greatest enemies to good health. If you are at risk for or already have atherosclerosis or any other forms of cardiovascular disease, consult your physician for treatment.

Garlic's renowned pungent smell comes from its sulfur-rich compounds, which are excreted through the lungs. But even garlic haters can take heart in the knowledge that garlic may be taken as a supplement known as Kyolic, which has a slightly altered chemistry and leaves no lingering smell to drive off loved ones.

Dr. James Balch has practiced medicine for more than 30 years. He has authored several books, including, "Ten Natural Remedies That Can Save Your Life," and co-authored the best-selling "Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing."

Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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