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Garlic the Almighty

Heard the one about raw garlic curing a cold? Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg. What natural-health experts have been saying for years - that garlic is one of the most medicinal plants in the world - is at last being confirmed by medical establishments on both sides of the Atlantic. Scientific studies have now shown that the consumption of garlic can improve kidney function and circulation, lower cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure and fight infections (bacterial, viral and fungal).

Last month saw the launch of a new garlic treatment for Candida albicans (thrush), Yeastguard by BioCare.

"This is the first time that garlic has been used in a pessary for the prevention and treatment of thrush," says Dr Nigel Plummer, a microbiologist and the creator of Yeastguard. "Candidiasis affects 75% of all women in Britain at least once in their life, and 3m suffer from it every year. We see this as an important new development."

So, how does this treatment work? "Each pessary contains a unique combination of allicin (the active ingredient in garlic) and Lactobacillus acidophilus," explains Plummer. "The allicin has a potent antifungal effect that kills the actual yeast, and the Lactobacillus acidophilus, a 'friendly' bacterium, stops the Candida albicans from getting out of control, which is the reason that thrush occurs in the first place."

According to the naturopath Gillian Hayner, who gave the pessaries to 20 patients to try for three months, the results look promising. The treatment eradicated thrush in those patients who had occasional bouts of it, and 13 out of 15 patients with recurring thrush were still clear of it after three months.

Recent research from Pennsylvania State University also suggests that the natural chemicals found in garlic can suppress tumours, and may even help to prevent cancer. Meanwhile, scientists at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, in London, have discovered that taking garlic during pregnancy reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia (raised blood pressure and protein in urine).

A recent study also finally confirmed that there is something in the "garlic for colds" theory after all. The study, carried out by Peter Josling, a chemist and founder of the Garlic Centre, based in East Sussex, shows that a new type of garlic supplement, Allimax, which contains high doses of allicin, can help to ward off or minimise the effects of the common cold.

When 146 volunteers were monitored over a three-month period, it was shown that the group taking a daily garlic capsule (containing 180mg of allicin) had only 24 colds in all, compared to 65 colds in the placebo- taking control group. The garlic group also recovered three times as quickly. "This study proves that allicin has powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties," says Josling.

Not all garlic supplements have the same effect, he warns. "Most regular supplements contain a mixture of alliin and the enzyme alliinase, which combine to produce allicin. If the capsule coating breaks open too soon, the stomach acid deactivates the alliinase enzyme, and the allicin is not produced. This means that there is no therapeutic effect." However, a novel type of patented technology means that a completely new group of garlic supplements, such as Allimax, can now be produced.

Before you rush out to buy medicinal forms of this pungent plant, however, Michael van Straten, an author and naturopath, urges caution.

"Many people don't realise that garlic can be an irritant, even in minuscule doses, which makes it a fairly common cause of contact allergies. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend pessaries, for instance, to anyone with sensitive skin or to those who think that they may be allergic to it.

"Eating raw garlic regularly can be just as beneficial, as it gets into the bloodstream that way. The only downside is that you could end up spending a fortune on breath-fresheners."


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