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Garlic, or Allium sativum (Latin), is a popular herb for cardiovascular health. Thousands of studies have shown that consuming garlic has significant, protective effects on the body. Garlic lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels, decreases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and helps inhibit the development of blood clots and cancerous tumors.

One bulb of garlic contains approximately 70 active health-promoting ingredients, in particular a substance called allicin. Allicin is a sulfur compound that destroys many parasites, fungi, and viruses, including Helicobacter pylori (which causes peptic ulcers), herpes, and candida. Because it contains large amounts of allicin, garlic is thought to support the immune system against bacterial, viral, and fungal infection. Some studies have even shown garlic to be particularly effective in preventing recurrent yeast infections and in treating ear infections.

Garlic can be used to help treat hypertension and other underlying conditions that lead to cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that it can lower blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels by more than 10 percent. Garlic might also help to slow LDL cholesterol oxidation, a process that produces artery-clogging plaque and ultimately leads to a heart disease known as atherosclerosis. Lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood help keep blood platelets from getting too sticky and forming blood clots; some studies of animals indicate that garlic may actually be successful in unclogging arteries by reducing the size of existing plaque deposits.

Garlic contains compounds that help prevent and slow tumor growth. Eating garlic and taking garlic supplements could help lower the risk of developing cancer, particularly stomach cancer. As previously noted, the allicin in garlic has a protective effect of the stomach, preventing the proliferation of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium strongly linked to the development of gastrointestinal cancer. Garlic also helps protect against breast, colon, and esophageal cancer.

Garlic supplements may also be helpful to patients undergoing chemotherapy, especially those being treated with doxorubicin, by helping to prevent the depletion of glutathione and the increased free radical activity that accompanies chemotherapy, which can damage heart and liver tissues. However, people undergoing chemotherapy should speak with their doctor before taking garlic supplementation of any kind, because garlic can increase the bleeding some people experience as a result of chemotherapy.

There have been some interesting studies with laboratory animals that seem to indicate garlic can lower blood sugar levels and increase the release of insulin, but it is not yet known if garlic can do the same for humans with diabetes.

Garlic can be eaten raw or cooked; eating 1 to 5 cloves each day would be a sensible addition to any diet (careful, more than 5 cloves a day could cause indigestion or flatulence). Garlic is also available in juice, syrup, and (if the thought of having a garlicky smell oozing out of your pores on a daily basis worries you) enteric-coated garlic tablets.

If you want to keep garlic oil around for topical treatment of ear infection or athleteís foot, etc., steep one part minced garlic in five parts olive oil, and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Itís a good idea to do a spot test before using garlic as a topical treatmentósome people have severe allergic reactions to garlic when it is applied to the skin.

Besides the smell, garlic has been reported to cause upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, and, in some sensitive individuals, asthma attacks. Nursing mothers should avoid garlic and garlic supplements, as it can cause colic in babies.

Garlic intensifies the effects of a number of pharmaceuticals, such as blood thinners, antibiotics, antifungals, steroids, and anti-inflammatories. People taking these medications should never take garlic supplements without first consulting a physician. Garlic should also not be used by people undergoing treatment with recombinant tumor necrosis factor (rhTNF), since it lessons this drugís effectiveness.

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