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Garlic may do little to lower cancer risk

January 10, 2009 | 12:00 pm

Garlic1_2Garlic has a long history of use as a medicine. Studies in animals have shown garlic has chemical properties that may help with disease prevention, such as scavenging free radicals that can harm cells. And epidemiological research -- studies following the habits of large groups of people over time -- has shown that people who eat a diet rich in garlic have better health on numerous measures.

But a study published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition failed to find strong evidence for the benefits of garlic for reducing cancer risk. Researchers from the Korea Food and Drug Administration examined 19 studies in humans using criteria from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's evidence-based review system for scientific evaluation of health claims. They found there was "no credible evidence" to support a relationship between garlic intake and reduced risk of gastric, breast, lung or endometrial cancer. There was "very limited evidence" to support a relationship between garlic intake and reduced risk of colon, prostate, esophageal, larynx, oral, ovary or renal cell cancers.

An editorial accompanying the study, however, says the analysis is too small to draw conclusions. Some of the 19 studies cited, for example, had a small number of subjects, wrote the author of the editorial, Richard S. Rivlin. Rivlin is a researcher with Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. He has received grant money for studies on garlic from Wakunaga of America, Ltd., which makes a garlic extract supplement. More research is needed, Rivlin said, to reconcile the new study's findings and previous scientific evidence that garlic is good for health.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Joshua Roberts/For The Times