Senin, 13 Oktober 2008

…”garlic really is protective against cancer.

There was the First World Congress on the Health Significance of Garlic and Garlic Constituencies, which in 1990 attracted some 150 researchers, scientists, and government officials to Washington, not to mention several recent studies sponsored by U.S. National Cancer Institute. They attribute their extraordinary vigor, in part, to the daily consumption of a clove of raw garlic.

Indeed, the purported health effects of Allium sativum have been a matter of record since 1500 B.C., when Egyptian sages dutifully noted on papyrus 22 medical applications for the smelly bulb.

More recently, in 1858, Louis Pasteur realized that garlic could kill bacteria. Then, 1983, biochemist Sidney Belman of the New York University Medical Center made a dramatic discovery: painting the skin of laboratory mice with garlic oil could inhibit the development of tumors.

Perhaps the strongest evidence to date that garlic plays a role in protecting humans as well is provided by two recent epidemiological studies a world apart.

In Italy government statistics revealed that deaths from stomach cancer varied enormously from region to region, especially from north to south. The lowest incidence of the disease, about one third the rate of cities in northern areas, was in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. Selecting four areas of italy for investigation, the researchers went on to study what in the Sardinian diet could account for such a huge disparity in risk.

After three years of gathering data, they had their answer. Fresh fruit and raw vegetables seemed to protect against stomach cancer, while meat, aged cheeses and salted or dried fish were associated with a higher risk. But one unexpected finding of the 1989 study regarded a foodstuff that represented a small part of the diet: garlic. While northern Italians are garlic just once a week on average, the citizens of Cagliari included it in meals almost everyday.

Similar news came from a smaller study in China’s Shandong province that looked at the health effects of five members of the alliums family: garlic, garlic stalks, scallions, Chinese chives and unions. The biggest consumers of these vegetables had only 40% the stomach-cancer risk of those who rarely ate them.

“I don’t know if you can call it a consensus,” says William Blot, a former chief biostatistician of the U.S. National Cancer Institute who designed both studies. “But it’s beginning to look like garlic really is protective against cancer”.

If the results of current studies hold, throwing a clove or two of garlic into the skillet each day (or taking the equivalent in the form of a supplement) may lower your risk of:

1. Stomach cancer. Researchers’ best guess is that one or more of potent organ sulfur compounds in garlic inhibits bacterial growth in the stomach that could lower the risk of cancer, since some bacteria are known to convert food into nitrosamines, well-known carcinogens.

2. Other cancers. Garlic compounds seem to slow the growth of breast-cancer cells in lab dishes, says biochemist John Pinto at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Prostate cells seem to respond the same way. Other studies have shown that in rodents garlic can inhibit the growth of tumors of the colon, rectum, esophagus and skin.

One way garlic may lower the risk of cancer is by preventing free radicals from forming. These roguish molecules—normal products of cell metabolism—are prime suspects in the development of tumors because of their tendency to damage DNA, cell membranes and cellular proteins.

3. Heart disease. Several ingredients in garlic appear to reduce the “stickiness” of platelets, blood elements that clump together to form clots, which can lead to heart attacks garlic may also cut down on the thickening and hardening of arteries known as atherosclerosis by preventing platelets from adhering to the lining of blood vessels.

There is increasing evidence that garlic can also lower cholesterol levels. Internist Stephen Warshafsky of New York Medical College recently analyzed the combined results of five studies. People with elevated cholesterol levels who took the equivalent in extract form of up to a clove of garlic a day saw their levels drop about 9%. “That’s significant, says Warshafsky, “because every one-percent reduction in cholesterol translates into a two-percent reduction of cardiac risk”.

4. Infection. According to garlic historian, it was used as an antiseptic during both World Wars, when infantrymen supposedly packed cloves of garlic oil wipes out many strains of fungus and yeast, including some that cause virginities. Chinese doctors use extra venous garlic treatments for cyptococcal meningitis, a fungus that can invade the nervous system.

The garlic compound allicin has also been found to be a potent antibiotic. In 1951 it was patented by Winthrop-Stearns Inc.,but the U. S. pharmaceutical firm’s lack of success suggests why garlic may always be a better food than drug. “It smells bad and has a short shelf life,” explains Eric Block, a professor of chemistry at the State University of New York at Albany, “which is a kind of death knell for a drug.”

Attempting to prove garlic has medicinal effects is one thing. Getting humans to eat it is quite another. “The truth is”, says Eva Buiatti, the Italian stomach-cancer study,” many Italians hardly eat garlic.”

There’s a beautifully euphemistic word used to explain why. “For aesthetic reasons,” says Diana Lucherini, who, with her husband, runs the kitchen of one of Tuscany’s most esteemed country inns, La Chiusa. “When a couple comes into the restaurant, the woman will sometimes say ‘No garlic, please.” Lucherini says, “because she doesn’t want to be bothered with this problem of the breath.”

“I have hated garlic ever since secondary school,” says Italian art historian Ivo Bomba, with a pained expression. “Everyone in Italy had this experience of a teacher who ate so much garlic that you could smell it in the next day from the back of the room.”

Bomba,s brother-in law, artist and furniture mover Francesco Savorgnan, thinks otherwise. “Without garlic and onions, “he declares, shaking his large hands for emphasis, “it is impossible to feel truly human~!”

Like virtually all disputes in Italy, this one is vigorous. After all, the beautiful thing about garlic is that, although scientists still struggle to pin down proof of its effects on health, their conclusions start to seem irrelevant as soon as you cut into a clove or taste it in a dish. True believers such as the booth owner in Sardinia are confident that science will eventually catch up with the wisdom of folklore. In the meantime, you don’t need a license to prescribe it.

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