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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Why I Love Garlic

Garlic An aromatic bulb with a powerful kick, garlic is a multicultural multitasker. Cuisines from around the globe depend on garlic’s pungent punch for their signature flavors. It’s hard to imagine Italian, Spanish, Asian, or Middle Eastern food without the bite of garlic. Just about any food can be enhanced with the “stinking rose,” even ice cream, if the folks in Gilroy, California (billed as “The Garlic Capital of the World”) are to be believed.

Garlic is integral to the Mediterranean diet, a diet that has been shown to reduce heart attack, stroke, and cancer risk. Exactly how garlic affects our heart health is not fully understood. Garlic extracts are often sold as supplements intended to lower cholesterol levels. However, most well-done scientific studies have shown that these products have little to no effect on cholesterol itself.

Rather than directly affecting cholesterol numbers, garlic probably prevents inflammation and harmful oxidation reactions in the arteries of the heart and other organs. A report from Argentinean researcher Marcela Alejandra Vazquez-Prieto and colleagues, published in the August 25, 2011 edition of The Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, describes a study in which rats fed a high fructose (sugar) diet were randomly assigned to receive garlic extract, onion extract, or placebo in their drinking water. At the end of the study period of eight weeks (quite a long time if you are a rat), those rats who were given the garlic or onion extracts were less likely to have high blood pressure, insulin resistance (what we might call pre-diabetes), and inflammation of the blood vessels.

A number of other rat studies have reported similar findings, but there are very few well-done studies in humans. One group from the University of Otego, in New Zealand, evaluated the short-term effects of garlic supplementation in 15 men with heart disease, and reported improved blood flow, although no measurable effect on inflammation, after two weeks. There has also been speculation that garlic might help reduce the likelihood of dementia, but to date, there is no proof of such an effect.

There is no convincing evidence that supplements are any better than the real thing. Fresh garlic is cheap, easy to use, and enhances a wide range of foods, but since garlic breath is no laughing matter, it’s best to share with someone you love. To spice up your cooking, click on the links for garlicky recipes from the experts at Prairie Garlic, Mad Dog Farm, Crazy Horse Garlic Farm and Green Organics Farm.

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.