SYDNEY - Garlic is best for your heart when it is raw, crushed and smelly rather than when it is processed or cooked, according to a study by U.S. scientists.
For centuries garlic has been hailed for its health benefits but cardiovascular researchers from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine said they have the first scientific evidence that freshly crushed garlic has more potent heart-healthy effects than dried garlic.
Their study, based on feeding garlic to rats for 30 days, also challenged the belief that most of garlic's benefits are due to its rich array of antioxidants.
The researchers found instead that garlic's heart-healthy effects seemed to result mainly from hydrogen sulfide, a chemical signaling substance formed after garlic is cut or crushed and relaxes blood vessels when eaten.
"Although best known as the stuff that gives rotten eggs their distinctive odor, hydrogen sulfide also acts as a chemical messenger in the body, relaxing blood vessels and allowing more blood to pass through," said researcher Dipak Das in a statement. "Processed and cooked garlic, however, loses its ability to generate hydrogen sulfide."
The study, to be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, was based on scientists giving freshly crushed garlic and processed garlic to two groups of lab rats.
They then studied how well the animals' hearts recovered from simulated heart attacks.
"Both crushed and processed garlic reduced damage from lack of oxygen, but the fresh garlic group had a significantly greater effect on restoring good blood flow in the aorta and increased pressure in the left ventricle of the heart," said Das.
He said these results were potentially important as there was growing interest among heart patients to use natural and complementary medicine. Figures showed that one in three American adults use some form of alternative medicine.
"The results of the present study strongly suggest that using fresh garlic would provide maximal and added benefits to the cardiovascular patients," he said.