Twenty years ago, it seemed as if only athletes and health fanatics understood the relationship between low cholesterol and good health. Today, many of us are as familiar with our cholesterol count as we are with our Social Security number, and some of us have had to face the daunting task of watching our cholesterol intake.
About 30 percent of Americans have blood cholesterol levels elevated enough to warrant changes in lifestyle and diet. Another 7 percent have levels so high that they must take medication ranging from aspirin to estrogen-replacement therapy. These treatments can have unwanted side effects, and some are quite expensive. According to researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco, however, six to eight million patients could use alternative treatments, including lifestyle changes, that would save them $3 to $4 billion a year in drug costs. Scientists are discovering and documenting that garlic can help because it packs a powerful punch in the fight against high cholesterol and heart disease.
The human body requires cholesterol to build cell walls and manufacture vital substances such as vitamin D and hormones; and the liver makes all that we require for normal cell functions. Dietary cholesterol is a fatty substance found in foods of animal origin such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. After it is consumed, it combines with proteins to form particles called lipoproteins, some good and some bad, which carry it through the bloodstream. High levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), commonly called ``bad'' cholesterol, can cause cholesterol to be deposited on artery walls, diminishing blood flow and increasing the likelihood of blood clots, which can cause heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoproteins (HDL), or "good cholesterol'', on the other hand, scavenge cholesterol from the bloodstream and carry it to the liver for excretion.
The ratio of LDL to HDL is an indication of related health risks: an adult with an LDL level above 160 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood and an HDL level below 35 mg/dl is five times as likely to develop coronary artery disease (a buildup of plaque in the arteries) as an individual with an LDL level of 160 or below and an HDL level 35 or higher.
Garlic (Allium sativum), either fresh cloves or standardized garlic preparations, can lower LDL levels. Studies have shown that people who regularly consume relatively large amounts of garlic and onions have lower cholesterol levels than people who don't.
Laboratory studies published in 1933 showed that artificially induced arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in animals was reduced when they were fed fresh pressed garlic juice and garlic extracts. Dozens of subsequent studies have suggested that eating one to two average-sized cloves of garlic a day reduces serum cholesterol by inhibiting cholesterol absorption.
When a clove of garlic is crushed or sliced, the compound alliin and the enzyme allinase are released. Together, they react to form allicin--the main sulfur compound responsible for garlic's health benefits.
Fresh garlic is most potent when eaten raw or only lightly saut‚ed, but adding garlic to your favorite cooked dishes is still a valuable way to reap its health benefits. Here are two heart-friendly and flavorful recipes that anyone will enjoy.