Should You Take Garlic Supplements -- or Just Eat More Cloves -- for High Cholesterol?

Cleveland Clinic experts evaluate this supplement for reducing high cholesterol.

A pungent-tasting herb, garlic is used around the world in cooking to season foods, from pasta dishes to simple roast chicken to garlic mashed potatoes. And, as anyone who’s ever watched a certain type of horror movie knows, it’s believed to ward off vampires too. Garlic has also been used medicinally in many cultures for thousands of years, including for many conditions related to the heart and blood system. Lots of studies have been done to measure the effectiveness of garlic in lowering cholesterol, with rather modest results. The evidence that garlic can lower high blood pressure is more promising.

Should you take this supplement? Experts on the Cleveland Clinic Prescriptive Wellness Committee weigh in on the pros and cons:

On the Pro Side: Brenda Powell, MD, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, offers a host of reasons to take garlic, starting with its modest benefits for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Garlic also appears to slow the progression of atherosclerosis of the aorta (hardening of the arteries), adds Dr. Powell. And it’s a source of polyphenols, which may reduce cancer risk and inflammation in the body.

Dr. Powell also points out that garlic taken regularly may prevent, and speed recovery from, viral upper respiratory infections; may prevent stomach and colon cancer in populations with a high dietary intake; and may help control blood sugar and manage diabetes. It’s generally recognized as safe by the FDA.

On the Con Side: Roxanne Sukol, MD, MS, of the Department of Preventative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Enterprise, is less enthusiastic about this dietary supplement. She warns that garlic may increase bleeding in patients taking blood thinners and that it can cause unpleasant breath, a distinct smell on the body, stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, bloating and diarrhea. “Some people think that the reason garlic is protective against colds is that the upper respiratory viruses don’t like the smell either!” she says.

She also points out that garlic does not lower cholesterol for those with familial (genetic) high cholesterol, it does not improve peripheral vascular disease, nor does it necessarily prevent breast or lung cancer.

Committee Conclusion: Experts on the Cleveland Clinic Prescriptive Wellness Committee conclude that garlic is safe to use and can be an adjunct to medical treatment for high LDL cholesterol, elevated blood sugars and high blood pressure. It is also safe for long-term use in preventing viral upper respiratory infections. If you decide to try it, remember to include it in your list of medications when you visit your doctor and other health care providers.

The usual dosage is one clove (approximately two grams) once or twice daily, or 200 to 300 mg dried garlic powder three times daily, or one to two grams aged garlic extract two or three times daily. There are a few warnings to note about garlic use, starting with not using garlic (or onions, leeks, chives or tulips) if you have a garlic allergy. You should also know that garlic interferes with HIV drugs (saquinavir and other antiplatelet drugs).

People who take garlic regularly for medicinal reasons should notify their doctors and dentists and discontinue use well before any planned surgical or dental procedures. Garlic may lower blood sugar and should be used with caution in patients on blood-sugar-lowering medications.

Related Links:
-- Let Cleveland Clinic help you lower high cholesterol
-- Try this garlicky salad dressing recipe
-- Find other vitamins and supplements that are good for you

Learn more:
-- High Cholesterol Spotlight 
-- 30 Cholesterol-Lowering Tips from the Cleveland Clinic
-- 7 Foods That Lower Cholesterol

NEXT... Should You Take Red Yeast Rice to Lower Cholesterol?

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