Garlic and Cancer

For centuries, garlic has been used to treat almost every ailment known to man — from the common cold to heart problems. In the old days, garlic was the primary natural antibiotic available and its use for medicinal purposes goes back some 5,000 years ago. Because of its reputation for being a cure-all, several studies were done to determine if garlic can prevent or treat cancer.

What Is Cancer?

Cancer is characterized by cells growing abnormally out of control. In normal conditions, our cells grow and divide in a controlled manner to keep our body healthy. Whenever our cells are damaged or grow old to function, they eventually die and are replaced by new ones.

Cancer may begin when something goes wrong with growth and division of cells. As more and more unwanted cells are produced, it leads to formations of lumps or masses of tissue called tumors. Malignant tumors are devastating as they have the capability to metastasize or spread and affect other parts of the body.

There have been several risk factors identified which contributes to the development of cancer. Common risk factors include age, family history, tobacco use, unhealthy eating habits, environmental factors, and sedentary lifestyle.

Role of Garlic in Cancer Treatment and Prevention

The fact that cancer claims more and more lives today pushes modern medicine to aggressively find more effective methods to combat cancer. And nutrition appears to be one easiest and most practical ways to fight this deadly disease.

Preliminary research suggests that plants from the lily family (Alliaceae) like onion and garlic have potential cancer fighting properties. High intake of garlic was found to lower the risk of several cancers, such as cancers of the stomach, colon, pancreas, esophagus and breast. Cell culture studies have shown that garlic help induce the death of cancer cells (apoptosis) and reduce the rate at which cancer cells proliferate.

Garlic Properties

Garlic is rich with natural antioxidants and its’ cloves have high amounts of allicin, flavonoids and selenium. Allicin is produced whenever the garlic is crushed, chopped or bruised. Basically, it’s the allicin that is responsible for the garlics pungent smell. It protects the bulbous plant from organisms that may attack it. Allicin is documented to increase and strengthen our body’s immune system which is vitally important in the fight against cancer. In China, the increase amount of raw garlic eaten greatly reduces the incidence of stomach cancer. The decrease incidence was highly due to allicin and the antibiotic properties of garlic which decreased the amount of carcinogenic nitrosamines formed.

Garlic is also rich in selenium and allyl sulfides which helps prevent cancer by blocking the damage to cells by free radicals. They also help stimulate the body to repair damaged DNA. Taking a closer look, selenium protects our body by activating an enzyme called gluthathione peroxidase which blocks the formation of free radicals. This enzyme prevents lipid peroxidation by converting hydrogen peroxide to water.

Garlic also has Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene, and in conjunction with selenium; they work together to prevent the degenerative changes caused by those harmful free radicals. In addition, ajoene, a chemical compound available in garlic, have shown anti-tumor properties that targets the microtubule cytoskeleton of tumor cells.