The Truth About Your Garlic Supplement

“Supports your cardiovascular system,” say the Kyolic bottles. “Cholesterol’s Natural Enemy,” boast the Garlique packages.

Sounds like taking garlic supplements keeps heart disease at bay. Not so fast. People have been eating or using garlic for hundreds of years, trying to ward off everything from gangrene and the plague to vampires.

And they’ve been taking garlic pills since the 1980s to lower their cholesterol.

In a 2007 study, Christopher Gardner, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, put raw garlic and two popular garlic-pill formulations to a rigorous long-term test in 192 adults with moderately high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Supplement manufacturers market garlic in a dizzying array of formulations.

“But the compounds that end up in garlic oil, aged garlic, and garlic powder, for example, wouldn’t necessarily be the same compounds or amounts or proportions that are in fresh garlic,” explains Gardner. So his team randomly assigned roughly a quarter of the participants to eat four grams (around 1½ teaspoons) a day of raw garlic. Another quarter were given Garlicin (powdered garlic) pills, while a quarter got Kyolic (aged garlic) pills and a quarter were told to take a placebo.

(The garlic-pill takers were given enough Garlicin or Kyolic to match the active compounds in the raw garlic.)

No matter how hard the researchers tried—they mixed the raw garlic into sandwiches—the raw-garlic eaters could tell which group they were in. “Our garlic pills, however, were successfully blinded,” notes Gardner. After six months, LDL cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and triglycerides were no different in the garlic eaters and the garlic-pill takers than in those who got the placebo.

“The backlash we got when we published our study! I must have had 50 offers from supplement companies of, ‘Hey! I know why your study didn’t work. You didn’t use my pill,’ ” recalls Gardner.

“But the industry, they want to sell pills. I wouldn’t buy any of these supplements to lower my blood cholesterol.”

Bottom Line: Leave the garlic pills on the shelf. If your LDL cholesterol is above “optimal” (if it’s 100 or more), cut calories (if you need to lose weight), exercise more, and eat a healthy OmniHeart diet. In any case, talk to your doctor about whether you should take a statin or other drug to lower your LDL level.

Source: Arch. Intern. Med. 167: 346, 2007

Do you take a garlic supplement? What has been your experience. Please share in the comments. 


8 Replies to “The Truth About Your Garlic Supplement”

  1. I have never heard about garlic lowering LDL, but have heard about lowering blood pressure! Has there been studies for that?

    1. From Nutrition Action Heathletter: Two meta-analyses of previous studies, one published in the United States and the other in Australia, concluded that garlic can lower blood pressure in those with hypertension, but not in those who do not have high blood pressure.

  2. The real test for garlic would be cardiovascular outcomes, since inhibition of inflammation is a major proposed mechanism, not just cholesterol lowering.

    1. From Nutrition Action Heathletter: Yes, that would be interesting, but no one has published a review of research looking at the use of garlic or garlic supplements and the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.

  3. I’ve heard garlic can boost your immune system, but that sounds questionable like everything else that claims it can fight a cold. Have there been any studies on that?

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: A recent company-funded study found that a particular brand of garlic supplement didn’t prevent colds but did reduce their severity. The study needs to be repeated by others.

  4. I never heard of garlic being good for lowering cholesterol. I have heard of it being good to lower blood pressure and help your immune system. Red Yeast rice is what I have traditionally heard was good for lowering bad cholesterol. Any study on that?

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