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GARLIC

Medical Science Discovers New Usesfor an Ancient Herb

By Stephen Laifer

"Garlic is the subject of considerable research for its medicinal properties, and new clinical trials are yielding proof of its role as a powerful antioxidant."

erbalists routinely elaim that garhc [AlUum sativwn) is the world's longest-used medicinal food. The therapeutie use of garlie predates written history by several millennia, with the earliest mention dating back more than 5,()()0 years ago to Sanskrit records in India.' Garlic was already a long-favored remedy in ancient medicine 1.000 years before the birth of Christ. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the spice as a god, valuing it so much that 15 pounds of garlic would pur- chase a healthy male slave. A close relative of the onion, garlic's origins in the Kirgiz desert region of Siberia have endowed it with the ability to thrive in harsh climates and poor soil. The bulb's adaptability played a significant role in its becoming a staple crop in almost every civilization around the globe. Even I.(K)O years ago, garlic was grown in virtually all the known world and nearly universal- ly recognized as a medicinal plant. Twentieth-century science rele- gated garlic to a state of relative neglect medicinally, if not in the kitchen. In recent years, however. garlic has moved to the forefront of an explosion of interest in natu- ral remedies. Accordine to the

UCLA Center for Human Nutrition in Los Angeles, diets rich in plant foods are associat- ed with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. These plant foods contain phytochemicals that have anti-cancer and anti-inflam- matory properties. Garlic and other white-green foods in the onion family contain allyl sul- phides, which may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Today, garlic is the subject of considerable research for its medicinal properties, and new clinical trials are yielding proof of its role as a powerful antioxidant. Garlic also shows promise in pro- tecting against heart disease, hypertension, and cancer.

SCAVENGING FREE RADICALS

Implicated in many serious ill- nesses, free radicals are harmful byproducts of cellular metabo- lism. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals. Sulfur-containing compounds, found in all body cells, are indis- pensable to living organisms. Unlike humans, plants can use inorganic sulfur to synthesize

April 2005 LIFE EXTENSION 87

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sulfur-containing amino acids. Many strong antioxidant com- pounds are rich in sulfur, includ- ing N-acetylcysteine. taurine. lipoic acid, and glutathione. Plants are an important source of sulfur for humans, and garlic is a major source of organosulfur compounds.^ Recent studies in India have demonstrated garlic's effective- ness in reducing oxidative stress

in animals with high blood lipid

levels. Supplementation with gar-

lie significantly countered the lipid-related depletion of intracel- lular antioxidants in Ihe liver and red blood cells.'' Two separate studies focused on S-allylcysteine,

a garlic-derived compound and

well-charaeterized scavenger of free radicals. S-allyleysteine scav-

enges free radicals and reduces oxidalive stress."" In experimental animal models. S-allylcysteine helped protect the nervous system from neurotoxins and the kidneys against damage from reactive oxy- gen species.*"'

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PROlECTING THE HEART

In horror movies, garlic is often used to ward off vampires. Garlic does indeed protect the blood (and its major engine, the heart) from attack—not from vampires, but from a subtler enemy. In recent years, athero- sclerosis has emerged as one of the leading causes of death in nations whose diets are dispro- portionately high in saturated fats and cholesterol. A Czech study investigated garlic's inhibito- ry effect on the biosynthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids. Positive results manifested in reduced arterial plaque and markedly decreased accumulation of choles- terol in the vascular walls." A Turkish team exploring gar- lic extract's effects on coronary plaque formation saw similar results. In test animals, seven months of garlic supplementa- tion significantly decrea.sed the plaque surface area in the ani- mals' aortas." Another study implicated several sulfur-con- taining compounds isolated from garlic as highly active anti- thrombotic agents. This study established that garlic could be a significant inhibitor of platelet aggregation.'" Eleven patients with athero- sclerosis were the focus of a six- month study on possible benefieial effects of garlic extract at a daily dose of 1 milliliter per kilogram of body weight. Garlic supplemen- tation notably lowered levels of the oxidative marker malondi-

aldehyde in plasma and red blood cells; ingesting garlic extract also prevented oxidation reactions by eliminating oxidant stress." The study authors concluded, "it is possible that reduced pcroxidalion processes may play a part in some of the beneficial effects of garlic in ath- erosclerotic diseases."" Aged garlic extract has been shown to reduce multiple cardio- vascular risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and platelet aggregation and adhe- sion, while stimulating the gener- ation of nitric oxide in endothelial cells.'- A recent, double-blind, plaeebo-controlled study evaluat- ed aged garlic extract's ability to inhibit vascular calcification, a marker of plaque formation in human coronary arteries, in 23 patients with atheroselerosis.'' The results suggested that aged garlic extract may inhibit Ihe pro- gression of eoronar)' calcification, suggesting a therapeutic role for garlic in patients at high risk for future eardiovascular events.''

TAKING THE PRESSURE OFF

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a silent but potential- ly deadly disease. Researeh sug- gests that garlic supplementation may provide important benefits for hypertensive patients. Researchers at the University of Mississippi investigated hypertension treatment using nat- ural, commonly available dietary supplements and stress-reducing

lifestyle modifications.' Garlic showed the potential to reduce systolic blood pressure by at least 9 mmHg and diastolic blood pres- sure by at least 5 mmHg." A subsequent Turkish elinical trial took this evidence further, finding that garlic extract supple- mentation over four months markedly lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure values in hypertensive volunteer subjects with high blood cholesterol." In those with normal blood pres- sure, garlic did not affect blood pressure levels.'^

ALLY IN TH E CANCER WAR

For thousands of years, tradi- tional medical practitioners have used garlic and other members of the Allium genus to treat cardio- vascular disease." Garlic's use as a remedy for tumors extends back

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to Ihe Codex Ebers of 1550 BC, an Egyptian medical papyrus.'" Recent extensive research has focused on the anticarcinogcnic potential of allium vegetables and their constituents, allylsulfides (organosulfur compounds) and fiavonoids. Modern epidemiological stud-

activities, researchers found that ajoene affected proteasome func- tion and activity both in vitro and in the living cell, and that these effects may account for ajoene's potential anti-tumor action.'" Topical application of ajoene has produced significant clinical response in patients with skin

enzyme.-

ies,

well correlated with laborato-

basal cell carcinoma.'" Ajoene

ry

investigations, corroborate the

inhibited proliferation and

evidence that higher intake of allium products is associated with

induced apt)ptosis of human leukemia CD34-negative cells,

reduced risk of several cancers." The mechanisms proposed to explain the cancer-preventive

inducing 30% apoptosis in myeloblasts from a chronic mycloid leukemia patient in blasl

effects of garlic include inhibition

crisis."' Even more significantly,

of

tumor mutagcnesis, modula-

ajoene profoundly enhanced the

tion of enzyme activities, and effects on cell proliferation and tumor growth.''

apoptotic effect of two chemo- therapeutic drugs, cytarabine (Cytosar') and fludarabine

Several garlic compounds, including allicin, induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in vari- ous malignant human cells. These include breast, coiorectal. hepat- ic, prostate, and lymphoma cells.'"

(Fludara' )."• The list of cancers responding to garlic treatment or supple- mentation continues to grow. Separate Chinese studies report- ed that the garlic component

A

growing number of clinica!

allyl sulfidc demonstrated activi-

studies are examining the proper- ties of ajoene. the major sulfur- containing compound purified from garlic. Ajoene has the advantage of being more chemi- eally stable than allicin. and researchers are investigating its possible role in the prevention and treatment of cancer.'^"'

ty against human bladder can- cer'" and liver cancer'' cells in vitro. Another study reported on the protective effects of garlic components in a rat model of colon carcinogenesis, noting that garlic inhibited cell prolifera- tion, induced apoptosis, and suppressed the aetivity of

Cancer researchers have noted that inhibition of the protea-

the cyc!oo.xygcnase-2 (COX-2)

some—an intracellular device by which damaged or unnecded proteins are broken down—plays

CETTING THE BENEFITS

a

key role in apoptosis and cell

eycle blockade in tumor cells. In a recent French study of ajoene's effects on the proteasome's

Garlic has demonstrated few toxic side effects. While eating garlic cloves is a proven way to

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obtain the benefits of their organosulfides. unwelcome side effects include bad breath and perspiration. Fortunately, garlic supplements provide all the bene- fits of eating raw garlic without these undesirable effects.

REFERENCES

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