Garlic has been used as a medicine for millennia. Over the centuries, it's been used as a remedy for everything from coughs to cancer. Before the discovery of antibiotics, it was even used as a wound dressing to lower the risk of infection. So does it actually work for any of these things?
While no one is suggesting that we stop using penicillin and start using garlic cloves, studies do consistently find that garlic is a very effective treatment for coronary heart disease. The most recent study, to be published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that garlic — specifically, aged garlic — prevents, reduces, and even reverses the buildup of soft plaque in arteries.
Garlic really does fight heart disease
For this study, one group took a placebo and another took 2,400 mg of aged garlic extract. They were first examined with Cardiac Computed Tomography Angiography. This is a type of imaging tool (like an MRI or CT scan) that looks at the arteries leading to the heart and measures the amount of plaque build-up there. At the end of a year they were tested again. The group taking the garlic extract had 80% less plaque than the placebo group.
Here's the thing: this isn't the first study to show that aged garlic affects plaque buildup. At least one study every year gets the same result. And yet rather than recommending garlic to people with coronary heart disease, we keep prescribing the same old drugs. Expensive drugs that certainly fall short of 80% effective. Drugs with so many side effects, I could write a book on them.
This makes me wonder how many heart attacks might be prevented if Big Medicine wasn't in bed with Big Pharma — if treatment decisions were really based on the scientific evidence instead of the marketing spiel of drug reps.
How plaque causes heart attacks
Arterial plaque is at the heart of the low-fat advice we've been given for decades. It's the core of the cholesterol scare. We now know that the fat-plaque connection is probably bogus, and that inflammation may be the real culprit. But whatever the root cause of plaque, it can cause heart attacks in two ways:
In a small number of heart attacks plaque builds up so thickly on artery walls that they either close off or become blocked by a blood clot. This cuts off blood flow to the heart and results in a heart attack. More commonly plaque deposits rupture, releasing their contents into the bloodstream. This causes a blood clot to form in the artery, blocking blood flow to the heart and causing a heart attack.
For years doctors believed that all heart attacks were caused by narrowing of the arteries due to plaque. However, modern medicine has found that in many cases of narrowed arteries, the body finds a way to reroute the blood flow around the blockage. Arteries narrow slowly, giving the body time to compensate for the reduced blood flow. In the case of ruptured plaques, the incident happens suddenly. A blood clot forms. The artery is blocked. It's immediate, and there is nothing the body can do.
Stresses such as high blood pressure make plaque deposits more likely to burst. Reducing the amount of plaque in the arteries reduces the possibility of plaque ruptures, and thus the number of heart attacks. Garlic not only reduces the amount of plaque, it also lowers blood pressure.
So why aren't doctors prescribing garlic?
You guessed it. Big Pharma stands to lose multiple billions of dollars if the garlic solution were to go mainstream. Statin drugs have been the best-selling drugs of all time. And statins aren't the only drugs meant to combat coronary heart disease. It's one of the most common diseases in the world, and keeping sick enough that you need treatment but well enough that you don't actually die is one of Pharma's cornerstones.
Most doctors have probably never read the scientific literature on garlic. Their focus is on drugs, because drugs are what insurance companies will pay for. No one is reimbursing them for prescribing natural cures. Open-minded doctors who do recommend natural treatments may find themselves labeled quacks, or even face professional consequences. We're not likely to see garlic promoted for heart disease until and unless Big Pharma can patent it.
Aged garlic extract (AGE) is an extremely potent supplement. It can react with other ailments you have or prescriptions you might be taking. If you suffer from or take any of the following, you may want to consult your doctor prior to taking it:
AGE is the product that's been found to reduce plaque. Fresh garlic may help lower blood pressure, but has no effect on plaque.
If you are taking medication for tuberculosis or HIV, you may want to consult your doctor. It can have serious drug interactions with some of the medications used to treat these conditions.
If you are on birth control pills or the shot, you should use a second form of birth control while taking garlic. Garlic may make hormonal birth control less effective.
Fresh garlic products may act as blood thinners, increasing the risk of bruising and bleeding. This is especially true if you're already taking a blood thinner. If you're on a blood thinner, you should let your doctor know that you're taking garlic.
Most AGE products recommend dividing 2,400 mg into three doses throughout the day.