G is for Garlic

By Dr. Ralph Moss

In the palmy days before World War I, my mother would leave Budapest with her family to visit relatives in the mountains of Romania. Her grandfather would place her on his knee and  impart these words of patriarchal advice: "Eat garlic." My great grandfather's farm was near Kolosvar (now Cluj) in Transylvania. Of course this was the stomping ground of the tyrant Vlad the Impaler, the real-life model for Dracula. Nowadays, the Romanians run Vampire Tours for bored American tourists, but in those days the existence of vampires was a serious matter. And so, my ancestor's advice probably had less to do with the health effects of garlic than with its known ability to ward off the unwanted attention of the Undead.

Flash forward to the 21st century. This month, the number of medical publications on garlic topped 1,500, over 250 of which are related to cancer. Garlic and its cousins (onions, chives, scallions and leeks) are probably the most intriguing of all vegetables. Garlic lowers cholesterol, reduces the risk of heart disease, fights infection and boosts immunity. And, as if that weren't enough, the data is strong for the prevention of cancers of the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. The NCI is sponsoring a huge clinical trial on garlic's ability to prevent stomach cancer. But why wait years for the results of this clinical trial? You can't go wrong if you follow my progenitor's advice and eat garlic, along with other foods of the allium family.

Nanjing Study

Parts of China have the misfortune to be among those places with an inordinately high rate of cancer of the stomach and esophagus. Scientists at the Nanjing Cancer Institute compared the incidence of several cancers among thousands of those who ate lots of allium vegetables versus thousands who ate little or none. ("Lots" in this case means at least once per week while "little" means less than once per month.)

Here is how allium vegetables prevented cancer of the esophagus:

  • 85 percent reduction for those who ate lots of scallions
  • 75 percent for onions
  • 70 percent for garlic
  • 43 percent for chives

The figures for stomach cancer prevention are equally impressive:

  • 83 percent reduction for those who ate lots of onions
  • 78 percent for scallions
  • 69 percent for garlic
  • 60 percent for chives

As you can see, scallions and onions may be even more powerful than garlic in preventing some cancers. It is a good idea to incorporate all of these foods into your weekly, or even daily, diet. I keep them all handy -- scallions with ginger and garlic on a piece of broiled fish, sweet, red or Vidalia onions chopped up for a tuna or mesclun salad, chives for a scoop of cottage cheese there are numerous possibilities. If you do cook these vegetables, do so with a light touch. Always put garlic in last when you are cooking and let it get just soft enough to eat, never mushy. Antibacterial Effects

It was Louis Pasteur who first described the antibacterial effect of onion and garlic juices. In World War II garlic was called "Russian penicillin" because it was the main antibiotic available on the Eastern Front. It kills both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Garlic is effective even against antibiotic-resistant strains. It even kills Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a kind of bacteria that is implicated in the cause of some stomach cancers and ulcers.

Many people avoid eating garlic since it can make one's breath smell pretty bad. In that case, garlic supplements are a convenient alternative. Such products were originally developed for the Japanese market, because the Japanese regard garlic breath as a major faux pas. Later, however, it was found that aged garlic has unusual health qualities of its own. While Larry King is busy promoting garlic supplements, I think the main focus should remain on allium vegetables as foods.

Now that spring is upon us, think about growing your own. Chives are easy to grow in a small herbal garden. Onions can be raised from seed under a couple of Gro-Lites. Garlic cloves should be put in the ground in the fall for harvest the following summer.

Garlic is a safe food and has been eaten with gusto for millennia. However, I once ate several raw cloves of garlic at a sitting and wound up with sharp pains in my stomach, so there is a limit. But by and large these are safe foods. You will do yourself a favor by making them part of your diet. Plus, there is the added benefit that if Vlad happens to drops by, you'll be prepared. is directed by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. Dr. Moss is the author of eleven acclaimed books including Antioxidants Against Cancer, Herbs Against Cancer, Questioning Chemotherapy, and Cancer Therapy. He consults for thousands of clients through his Moss Reports service. The Moss Reports specializes in educating cancer patients about the most promising alternative treatments for their condition.

Note from Chet: Be sure to sign up for Dr. Moss's excellent newsletter at his website. You'll learn about a lot more than garlic, believe me.

Disclaimer: Throughout this entire website, statements are made pertaining to the properties and/or functions of food and/or nutritional products. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and these materials and products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.