Breast Health Tip #13: Garlic

BREAST HEALTH TIP#13: Garlic Eating just a clove or two of garlic a week can significantly lower your risk of breast cancer.

For more than 5,000 years, before even the earliest Chinese dynasties, garlic has been used as a medicine in central Asia. Prized for its health promoting and protecting qualities, it was brought further and further West until it reached Egypt about 4,000 years ago. The earliest surviving written records describing garlic as a medicine are in the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus written in approximately 1500 b.c. Garlic was introduced into Europe in the first century a.d. With this long history of cultivation, garlic is no longer found in the wild; it is strictly a plant grown by people. . Today, it’s produced and enjoyed for its excellent taste and diverse medicinal qualities by nearly every culture in the world. One of its distinctive traits is its ability to lower your risk of breast cancer.

An Iowa study of 34,388 postmenopausal women found that those who consumed garlic regularly had a noticeably lower incidence of breast cancer. Eating just one clove of garlic a week made a significant statistical difference.

There are several ways that garlic helps to protect against and fight breast cancer. Overall, garlic is a good cancer fighter because it has more antioxidants than any other vegetable ever tested. Antioxidants protect your body from the oxygen free radical damage that can lead to cancer. Garlic usually has abundant amounts of selenium and this mineral stimulates the production of glutathione, one of your body’s natural antioxidants.

Research has found that garlic also gives a boost to your immune system. Specifically, it enhances a type of cell in your immune system called Natural Killer (NK) cells. These cells are important because, as their name indicates, they naturally kill things you don’t want in your body, such as cancer cells, bacteria, and viruses.

Laboratory studies have revealed some of the precise ways that garlic prevents and fights breast cancer. Garlic decreases the formation of carcinogens in breast tissue by as much as 50-70 percent. It helps to avert the initiation of breast tumors by preventing toxins from binding to DNA in breast cells. Garlic has also been shown to inhibit or prevent breast tumor cells from growing and dividing. In addition, research shows that garlic is very effective at lowering the risk of stomach cancer.

Cancer isn’t the only disease that garlic helps to prevent. The main problem in AIDS patients is that the HIV virus destroys the immune system. The number and function of NK cells, in particular, drop to very low levels. A 1989 study found that garlic was effective at increasing the activity of NK cells in AIDS patients.

Garlic is especially good for your heart’s health. It decreases cholesterol and triglycerides, prevents blood clots, improves circulation, and decreases the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Garlic also reduces blood pressure. Studies show it can reduce systolic blood pressure (the first or higher number in a blood-pressure reading) by 20�30 millimeters (mm) of mercury (Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (the second or lower number) by 10�20 mm Hg.

Garlic: Nature�s Antibiotic
Garlic can kill a whole army of unwanted invaders: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. In 1858 Louis Pasteur, who developed the �germ theory,� discovered that garlic kills bacteria. This was an important revelation, because there were no antibiotics then. After his discovery, garlic juice was put on wounds to help prevent infections, including those in soldiers fighting World War I since antibiotics weren�t available until after that war.

Many modern-day studies have shown that garlic is effective in killing a wide variety of bacteria including tuberculosis and Staphylococcus aureus, a common skin pathogen that frequently causes infections. Studies conducted in the 1980s and 1990s found that garlic is also a good antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic.

The Magic Inside
As with any whole plant, it�s difficult to describe exactly how it works because there are thousands of constituents all interacting together. But a few substances have been identified in garlic that have clear medicinal benefits and specific actions. Something called “allin” holds many of garlic�s health-promoting properties. Allin is just one of thirty sulfur compounds found in garlic. When garlic is crushed or broken, the enzyme allinase is released, and it converts allin to allicin — the actual active compound. Allin doesn�t have any health-supporting effects until it becomes allicin. So, to gain the full potential of the allinase in garlic, you should crush it and wait at least fifteen minutes before you eat it. Other plentiful health-enhancing compounds found in garlic are selenium and vitamins A, B, C, and E.

Getting Your Garlic
Garlic can be eaten fresh or taken in standardized doses as capsules and tablets. The general daily recommended dose is 600�900 mg, or one or two fresh cloves. Many of the antioxidants in garlic are destroyed if you cook it too much. So, eat it raw, or only lightly saut�ed, and add it to foods near the end of cooking. If you are concerned about �garlic-breath,� there is an odorless form of garlic available in capsule form.

Side effects have been reported with therapeutic doses of garlic, but they are mild and rare. They include heartburn, flatulence, headaches, muscle soreness, fatigue, dizziness and allergic reactions. Garlic is not recommended if you are on anticoagulants or blood thinners, because it also thins your blood.

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Written by Christine Horner MD FACS

Explore Wellness in 2021