Belief in garlic's benefit to heart gets new support

ON CALL

August 10, 1993|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Contributing Writer

Q: Is it true that garlic protects against heart disease?

A: Many friends and patients have asked me this same question over the years. I have been extremely skeptical despite the results of several small studies, many of them done in Germany, which suggested some possible benefits of garlic.

A report in the June issue of the American Journal of Medicine provided the incentive to review the issue more carefully. In this 12-week study from Tulane University School of Medicine, 20 subjects (9 women and 11 men) took 900 mg of powdered garlic daily while a control group (14 women and 8 men) took placebo pills daily. The initial cholesterol level in all subjects was greater than 220 mg/dl.

At the end of 12 weeks, total cholesterol dropped by 6 percent and the atherogenic low density lipoprotein fell by 11 percent in the subjects taking the garlic pills.

A much larger study from West Germany, published in 1990, enrolled men and women with cholesterol values between 200 and 300 mg/dl. One group of 110 subjects took 800 mg of powdered garlic each day for four months, while the control group took placebo pills daily for the same period of time. In the subjects taking garlic, the total cholesterol declined by 12 percent and the triglycerides fell by 17 percent. For both cholesterol and triglycerides, the higher the initial level, the greater the reduction on the garlic pills.

Other studies have shown that similar doses of garlic produce a modest reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. These results provide evidence that garlic pills provide short-term improvement in several of the risk factors for coronary artery disease.

As yet untested are the effects of long-term garlic use on these risk factors or on coronary artery disease itself. Another problem is that garlic products vary widely in their effectiveness because the active ingredients are easily destroyed during preparation of the products.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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