CSPI Asks Government To Ban Garlic Cholesterol-Lowering Claims

January 1, 2001

3 Min Read
CSPI Asks Government To Ban Garlic Cholesterol-Lowering Claims

CSPI Asks Government To Ban Garlic Cholesterol-LoweringClaims

WASHINGTON--A consumer advocacy group petitioned the government to ban theuse of cholesterol-lowering claims for garlic supplements after a new reportshowed that the herb has short-term but not long-term effects on reducingcholesterol levels. On Dec. 5, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)filed petitions against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal TradeCommission (FTC) to cease the use of cholesterol-lowering claims for garlicsupplements. The report, "Garlic: Effects on Cardiovascular Risks andDisease, Protective Effects Against Cancer and Clinical Adverse Effects,"was conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) at theU.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  In the report, researchersevaluated 37 randomized trials that noted the effects of garlic consumption onblood cholesterol levels. Participants taking the supplement experienced reducedlevels for one to three months; however, researchers found that six months ormore of garlic consumption did not further reduce either triglycerides or LDL("bad" cholesterol). This led researchers to conclude that garlicsupplements may not lower cholesterol over the long haul.  "Sinceprolonged elevation of blood cholesterol levels promotes cardiovascular disease,a product that lowers levels for only a few months is virtually useless,"said David Schardt, a CSPI nutritionist on the AHRQ advisory panel.  Thisreport yields similar results found in a Sept.19 Annals of Internal Medicinemeta-analysis of garlic clinical trials. In that analysis, researchers from theUniversity of Exeter in England found that garlic may be superior to placebo inreducing total cholesterol levels; however, "the size of the effect ismodest, and the robustness of the effect is debatable." "In studiesthat went beyond three months, there was no change [in cholesterol levels] fromwhen the studies started," said Schardt. "If there was a small changeinitially, it disappeared." Schardt added that the body may have adjusteditself to the effects of the garlic. He also suggested that people, who may havebegun to diet and exercise at the same time as taking the supplement, fell outof the habit after a few months, effectively raising their cholesterol levelsagain. Schardt also suggested that current testing methods for short-termstudies may be inappropriate for longer studies; the longest study in themeta-analysis lasted 24 months. "It's conceivable that there is somethingdifferent about the way you do a longer term study than a shorter term studythat might lead to different conclusions. You can't rule that out." Infact, in the Nov. Journal of Nutrition (130:11 2662-5, 2000), researchers fromJohn Moores University in England found that subjects ingesting 5 milliliters ofaged garlic extract (kyolic) per day for 13 weeks experienced reduced plateletaggregation, leading to fewer blood clots and heart attacks.  The authorsfor the AHRQ report concluded that more studies needed to be conducted ondifferent garlic preparations (raw, cooked or supplement form). "Based onprevious research that we have looked at, garlic's cholesterol-lowering effectis present," said Wayne Silverman, chief administrative officer at theAmerican Botanical Council. "We definitely do not think that people shouldstop taking garlic." "There may be other ways in which garlic affectsheart disease, but in terms of lowering cholesterol, the research shows more andmore that it doesn't have much of an effect," Schardt said. "Whatcompanies need to do is emphasize cardiovascular health or other benefitsaffecting heart disease other than cholesterol-lowering effects. Some peopleneed to lower their cholesterol levels, and if those people go off to takegarlic, thinking that that's going to lower their cholesterol levels because itsays so on the box, they'll be hurting themselves in the long run." FDAstated that it would make CSPI's docket public and respond to the center within180 days. Additional information about the petition was not disclosed. For acopy of the AHRQ report, visit www.ahrq.gov/research/oct00/1000ra.pdf.

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