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Garlic – the immune support natural

Many folks with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia suffer from chronic infections. Garlic is a remarkable food source with an incredible spectrum of activity against bacteria, fungal infections, and viruses. Now, with new and stable formulations available, garlic supplements can be used to combat infections naturally, according to chemist Peter Josling, Director of the Garlic Center in Sussex, England and author of the book, "Allicin: The Heart of Garlic [1].

JN: How did you get interested in garlic in the first place?

PJ: I’m a chemist by training and I was working for a medical publisher who commissioned an article on garlic and heart disease. There is evidence that certain types of garlic extract can help reduce cholesterol. I went off to the British Library, and to my amazement there were well over 1,500 articles and clinical papers on garlic’s role in cancer, heart disease, and infectious disease. I couldn’t quite believe it, and after that I was hooked.

Chemical analyses of garlic cloves have revealed an unusual concentration of sulfur-containing compounds – in fact, if you search the National Library of Medicine (www.nlm.nih.gov), you find more articles on garlic than ginseng or ginkgo or tea tree. It was in 1944 that researchers first isolated the molecule responsible for the remarkable antibacterial activity of crushed garlic cloves. It turned out to be allicin, which is an oxygenated sulfur molecule.

JN: Garlic actually has several very potent sulfur products, which give the herb its distinctive smell. Can you describe each one of them?

PJ: The chemistry of garlic is quite complicated, but very well described in the medical literature. Garlic cloves are odor free until crushed or processed.

Allicin is the first compound produced from fresh garlic when you crush it. Allicin is what garlic uses to protect itself when it is “attacked.” Allicin is created when a chemical called alliin reacts with an enzyme in garlic called allinase. However, this enzyme is quasi-suicidal. That means that as soon as it reacts with the alliin it dies away – unlike most enzymes, which will carry on ad infinitum as long as they have a molecule to act on.

JN: Allicin is very potent but unstable.

PJ: Right. Chemists have needed to capture it and freeze it at minus 70 degrees centigrade to preserve it. It is incredibly unstable. That’s why many garlic products in the supplement industry are made of alliin and allinase in a single capsule, which will react to produce allicin when they came into contact with water and are joined together.

JN: So you could take a capsule with those two ingredients, and allicin would be produced in your stomach.

PJ: Yes. Even so, the amount of allicin released in your stomach is variable. It depends on the product.

JN: As soon as you crush a fresh clove of garlic, and the allicin begins to degrade, it changes into other sulfur compounds such as allitridium and ajoene. Those are supposed to be very beneficial for our health, too. I’ve read that allitridium has antifungal and antibacterial activity, though not as potent as allicin. And that ajoene is good at lowering cholesterol.

PJ: That’s true, though allicin is the most potent antibacterial and antifungal substance in garlic. Bacteria, from Escherichia coli (E. coli) to Staphylococcus aureus, Proteus mirabilis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and many others, are sensitive to garlic. So is Helicobactor pylori (H. pylori), the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers.

Even more interesting, garlic can prevent the formation of toxins from staphylococcus bacteria, and there is evidence that the toxins themselves cause illness. Basically, allicin is a broad-spectrum antibiotic. We’ve tested it on 30 clinical isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [and it is highly active] against these resistant strains of staphylococcus. We also published another study on nearly 150 volunteers showing that allicin helps prevent the common cold. There is some evidence that ajoene, however, may be slightly better as an antiviral.

JN: What other healing properties does garlic have?

PJ: It enhances immune function, according to studies in animals. It seems to enhance the activity of natural killer cells, and to inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells. It has been used for treating high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis since the early part of the last century. Regular garlic intake lowers hypertension, and as early as 1928, definite blood pressure decreases were achieved with garlic therapy.

It is also well established that garlic extracts, in particular garlic powders, have a significant anti-cholesterol effect. One 12-week study compared garlic powder tablets with a commonly prescribed lipid-lowering drug that was used before the statins (drugs that inhibit the enzyme determining the speed of cholesterol synthesis) became popular. This was a multi-center, double-blind study with 94 patients. After just a month of treatment, the decreases in triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol were also statistically significant – and just the same as the drug. “Good” cholesterol (HDL) also increased significantly.

JN: Tell me more about allicin and cancer? I know there is some work in Israel where they have attached allicin to antibodies and helped kill cancer cells.

PJ: Epidemiological studies show that cancer occurs the least in those countries where garlic and onions are eaten regularly in high doses – France, Italy, Egypt, India, and China, for instance. Since garlic is mainly eaten cooked in most of these countries, an anti-cancer effect may be due to other compounds in garlic besides allicin.

However, the antibiotic effects of garlic may help inactivate microbes in the stomach, and help protect against stomach cancer. In addition, a very important study published recently in America – the Iowa Women’s Health Study, involving 41,387 women ages 55 to 69 – determined their intake of 127 foods, including 44 vegetables and fruits, and then monitored colon cancer incidence for five years.

This study found that garlic was the one food which showed a statistically significant association with decreased colon cancer risk. Just one or more servings of garlic per week lowered risk of colon cancer by 35 percent.

JN: Can garlic harm you in any way?

PJ: Taking too much garlic can hinder blood clotting, and it would be sensible for people already on blood-thinning drugs, or about to undergo surgery, to advise their medical team before starting therapy with any garlic supplement. Even so, in most cases adding garlic supplements or garlic to your diet should be safe.

JN: Can you summarize garlic’s benefits?

PJ: I can’t think of any other plant that has such an established and magnificent track record for performing good deeds.

For more information, visit the Garlic Information Centre – “An international information service on the medicinal benefits of garlic” – at http://www.garlic.mistral.co.uk/ [2]

* Reproduced with permission of the author, Jill Neimark. © Jill Neimark 2006. Jill is a widely published journalist specializing in healthcare and nutrition topics who has written extensively for ProHealth in the past.

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness, disease, or condition. It is very important that you never make a change in your health support plan or regime without collaborative review and consultation with your professional healthcare team.