Garlic Stinks as a Cholesterol Fighter
For adding flavor in cooking, garlic can't be beat. For cutting cholesterol, not so much. That's the finding of a study released this week that found that the herbin raw or supplemental formhad no effect on blood cholesterol levels.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine studied 192 adults with moderately high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol. People fitting that profile, says study author Christopher Gardner, a nutrition scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, are most likely to turn to garlic or supplements to lower cholesterol, since their levels aren't high enough for prescription drugs.
Study participants were randomly assigned to one of four regimens, each taken six days a week for six months. One group got a crushed clove of raw garlic (mixed into condiments in a sandwich, thankfully), one got four tablets of the supplement Garlicin, one got six tablets of the supplement Kyolic, and one got a placebo. The supplement doses were equal to a clove of garlic. The supplement and placebo groups also got the sandwiches, with garlic-free condiments, to help ensure that participants didn't know which group they were in. The researchers did report, however, that it was hard to fool the raw garlic folksand probably their significant others, too.
The study participants got monthly blood cholesterol readings. Researchers also made sure they didn't gain or lose weight, since that might have altered LDL levels. "We really thought it would work," says Gardner. "It's mechanically plausible." Crushing raw garlic releases a substance called allicin, which has been shown to block cholesterol formulation in cells in the lab and in animal experiments.
Not so in humans: Neither the supplements nor the raw garlic had any effect on LDL cholesterol. Nor did they have any effect on other blood cholesterol measures. The study appears in the current Archives of Internal Medicine.
Kyolic's maker, Wakunaga of America Co. in Mission Viejo, Calif., said in a statement that other studies have shown that the supplement slows down plaque formation in the arteries.
Gardner says that other health claims for the herb, including protecting against heart disease and possibly cancer, need to be investigated in clinical trials. As for cholesterol, it's only likely to work if the taste makes you eat more of heart-healthful foods with garlic like hummus or stir-fry veggies, he says. Garlic fries, then, aren't doing your cholesterol levels any favors.