Strong-smelling garlic may prove to be a powerful medical therapy

September 11, 1990|By Gerri Kobren

Distasteful though it seems, garlic juice in milk may be good for the heart and assorted other physical parts.

Heart patients in India who took daily doses of that peculiar concoction in addition to their other, modern medicines, not only lived longer than heart patients who took only their medicine, they also enjoyed it more.

They reported increased sexual desire, increased vigor and energy, increased exercise tolerance, improved appetite and reduction in joint pain and body aches.

Of all the positive medical effects described at the World Congress on the Health Significance of Garlic and Garlic Constituents in Washington last month, the heart study reported by Dr. Arun Bordia of the Tagore Medical College in Udaipur, India, was perhaps most intriguing, because it was the only major experiment in which humans were given garlic as therapy.

The 40 or so other reports of garlic's ability to prevent illness came from tests on rats, mice, rabbits and the occasional chicken.

Those reports did, however, give the audience of scientists, physicians, reporters and garlic purveyors plenty to chew on. In laboratory tests with animals, garlic -- or something in it -- protected against coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, blood clots, radiation damage, various infections, and cancer of the breast, colon, esophagus, lung, skin and stomach.

Exactly how garlic does all that is not yet clear. And garlic may be common, but it's no simple substance. More than 200 chemical components have been found in it, with variations according to where and how it's grown. Some of those chemicals are also unstable: They're lost or changed when the garlic is cut, cooked, aged or otherwise processed.

So no one at the conference knew whether what happened with one kind of garlic would necessarily happen with another, or whether what happened with massive doses and little lab animals would also occur with the doses people would find tolerable.

"The whole area of research is a mess," one researcher confided. "No one is doing the same thing as anyone else."

Nevertheless, some physicians aren't waiting for the results of controlled experiments. "Three-fourths of my patients get garlic," said Dr. Finn Skott Anderson of Denmark.

One of the Garlic Congress participants, Dr. Anderson has his own clinic near Copenhagen. His patients get their garlic with onions or with potato juice or with modern medicine, for treatment of fevers, infections, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease and heavy metal (such as lead) toxicity.

Some of them get it in an aged, deodorized form; others get it fresh and raw in multiclove doses that could drive their nearest and dearest to despair. It could also drive the patients to ill health if continued for any length of time.

"It's well known that 20 to 25 grams daily -- the amount in one bulb -- leads to anemia in 20 to 40 days," Dr. Anderson said.Fe

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