To create aged garlic extract, garlic is crushed and then naturally cold-aged for up to 20 months. Research shows it may lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Nearly 2500 years ago, Hippocrates, known as the father of Western medicine, stated, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Today, a food that many of us eat every day could prove to contain some of the most powerful health-giving properties found in the plant world. The smelly (and sometimes shunned) garlic bulb is gaining much recognition for its heart health benefits.
A historic hero
Throughout history, garlic has been used for its powerful antibiotic properties, even being termed as “Russian penicillin.” A study published in 2012 at Washington State University revealed that the compound diallyl sulphide found in garlic was 100 times as effective as the antibiotics erythromycin and ciprofloxacin.
Along with antibiotic properties, garlic is fast becoming an essential player in the prevention of heart disease. Many factors contribute to heart health, such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels. Research shows garlic can be effective in addressing these and perhaps more facets of heart health.
What is “aged garlic extract”?
Although many preparations of garlic exist, such as garlic oil and dried garlic powder, aged garlic extract (AGE) has been thoroughly studied, is standardised, contains active and stable components and has a high safety profile. Aged garlic extract is created by crushing and then naturally cold-ageing garlic for up to 20 months.
Cholesterol is necessary for many functions in the body. The precursor to vitamin D, cholesterol travels in the bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins. These packages are categorised as HDL (which is often termed good cholesterol) or LDL (which is termed bad cholesterol). Unhealthy cholesterol levels can give rise to plaque buildup within the arteries and are considered an important factor in the development of heart disease.
Several studies have shown that AGE can help lower cholesterol. One 2012 study involving 30 women, for example, concluded that AGE intake reduces heart disease risk factors (including LDL levels) independent of exercise. A 2012 meta-analysis of 26 studies noted that AGE was effective in reducing total cholesterol levels in the blood.
High blood pressure
Another aspect of cardiovascular health is high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension. Over time, uncontrolled hypertension damages the inner lining of blood vessels by causing scarring and even rupture of small vessels known as capillaries. According to the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia, high blood pressure measured in the doctor’s office is generally defined as a reading higher than 140/90.
In a study published last year, researchers at the University of Adelaide found compelling evidence that AGE can effectively lower blood pressure. Patients were given 240 mg, 480 mg or 960 mg daily, or a placebo.
In comparison to the placebo group, those individuals receiving 480 mg of garlic extract experienced a significant reduction in blood pressure within 12 weeks, whereas those receiving 960 mg showed improvement at eight weeks. Patients taking 240 mg did not experience significant changes in blood pressure. One theory that researchers hold is that by stimulating nitric oxide production, garlic may help dilate blood vessels, thereby reducing blood pressure.
Heart attack prevention
Plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, can greatly increase the chance of a heart attack. Characterised by hardening and narrowing of blood vessels, atherosclerosis can reduce blood supply to key areas of the body such as the heart muscle and eventually lead to a heart attack.
In a small 2004 study from the University of California, cardiologists reported that AGE reduced participants’ risk for heart attack by about 50 per cent after supplementing for one year. Later studies have supported these findings, showing that AGE can slow the progression of artery hardening, and may even help to reduce blood homocysteine levels, which are thought to be another marker for inflammation and risk of heart disease.
Many cardiologists advise that low-dose aspirin can help reduce the chance of a heart attack. The reasoning behind this is simple. Occasionally, blood clots can form within blood vessels, which may become deadly if lodged into areas that are already narrowed by atherosclerosis. By preventing these hazardous blood clots by thinning the blood, aspirin is often associated with heart attack prevention for those who are at risk, but aspirin has its own set of medical complications that can occur.
Aged garlic extract may also prevent unwanted blood clots that develop in the bloodstream. Scientists in Liverpool, England, suspect garlic decreases clotting by suppressing calcium intake by platelets (which in turn inhibits the platelets from coming together and forming a clot) or by changing the activity of “messengers” in the platelets. Due to its ability to inhibit blood clots, AGE is often considered to be a blood thinner, which can interact with other blood-thinning medications and supplements (see sidebar).
There’s no doubt that aged garlic extract is not only considered an effective natural supplement for heart health but also believed to be safe when taken properly. A review of research indicates 600 mg daily of AGE is an effective dose to bring about positive changes for cardiovascular health. By improving hypertension and high cholesterol, and reducing atherosclerosis, aged garlic extract is considered to be true medicine in the form of food.
Here are a few common contraindications and interactions to be aware of with garlic supplementation. As with any new supplement, check with your health care practitioner before taking AGE to make sure it’s right for you.
Due to its potential to thin blood, pre- and post-surgery patients should avoid garlic supplementation unless otherwise advised by their health care practitioner.
Medicinal drug interactions
- Garlic may decrease the effectiveness of some medications, such as antiviral medications for HIV, and isoniazid (an antibiotic often used for tuberculosis).
- Garlic can also interact with blood thinning medications and supplements.