One of the biggest myths surrounding heart health is this idea that there is “bad” and “good” cholesterol. How many times have you read about “bad” LDL cholesterol and “good” HDL cholesterol? The reality is these are misnomers.
While HDL cholesterol is known to be a heart protector, this “good” cholesterol can have a dark side. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, when a small, inflammatory surface protein known as apolipoprotein C-III attaches to HDL cholesterol, it can alter the HDL and actually increase your risk of heart disease by up to 60 percent.
On the flip side, LDL cholesterol isn’t all bad. In fact, it is needed in a wide variety of bodily processes, most notably in the production of hormones. Like HDL, LDL can turn bad when it becomes oxidized.
Oxidation is like the browning that occurs with fresh-cut fruit. That “browning” is oxidation. Before the fruit turns brown, it’s perfectly fine and delicious. But once it browns? Not so much. Ditto for cholesterol.
So the key is not to simply reduce LDL cholesterol or increase HDL. The real solution is to keep cholesterol from oxidizing. And according to researchers from New Zealand, the answer can be found in a certain form of garlic.
The Stinking Rose to the Rescue
Garlic’s medicinal properties have been heralded for hundreds of years. The ancient Egyptians claimed that garlic enhanced physical strength, while the ancient Greeks used it as a laxative. Meanwhile, its effectiveness as a topical antibiotic earned it the nickname “Russian penicillin.”
Thanks to garlic’s shape and distinctive aroma, it has inherited another, less complementary nickname — the stinking rose. But it is this “stink” that gives garlic many of its healing properties.
Of garlic’s 33 sulfur compounds, 17 amino acids, antioxidants, and multiple vitamins and minerals, most researchers believe a substance called allicin is the key ingredient. And it is this allicin that gives garlic its distinct aroma.
Garlic and Cholesterol
To see if this stinking rose could help reduce LDL oxidation, researchers recruited nine volunteers to test the effects of two different types of garlic (raw versus aged garlic extract) against alpha-tocopherol, a type of vitamin E that has been proven to reduce oxidation. The divided them into three groups of three people each.
Each group took all three treatments for a week, with a weeklong break between treatments. This means that group one took raw garlic for a week, then had a week “washout” break. They then took alpha-tocopherol for a week, followed by a washout week. Finally, they took aged garlic extract for a week. The other groups rotated their treatments in a similar fashion.
All three groups took the following dosages of garlic and alpha-tocopherol with their evening meal:
- 6 grams of raw garlic daily (about 15 mg of allicin), crushed then eaten raw, to ensure maximum amount of allicin consumption
- 2.4 grams aged garlic extract (provides zero allicin and about 1.2 mg of S-allylcysteine) per day
- 800 mg alpha-tocopherol a day
At the end of the testing period, researchers found that alpha-tocopherol produced the greatest resistance to LDL oxidation as compared to aged garlic extract and raw garlic. And aged garlic extract provided better oxidation protection than raw garlic.
Because aged garlic extract does not contain allicin, researchers credited the antioxidant S-allylcysteine with its protective quality. This makes sense, as the alpha-tocopherol is a potent antioxidant and was significantly more effective at reducing oxidation than either garlic form.
Based on this, researchers concluded that while it is generally accepted that antioxidants can increase resistance to LDL oxidation, the relationship between LDL oxidation and atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) is less defined.
Therefore, “If antioxidants are found to be anti-atherogenic, the combined antioxidant and serum cholesterol-lowering action of [aged garlic extract] may make it useful in reducing the progression of atherosclerosis in people.”
Get Your Es and AGEs
So, the good news is you don’t have to down raw garlic to get the benefit. Phew! The even better news is that you can take 800 mg of vitamin E as alpha-tocopherol and 2,500 mg of aged garlic extract to help protect against LDL oxidation, thus further reducing your risk for heart disease.
 Majken K et al. Apolipoprotein C-III as a Potential Modulator of the Association Between HDL-Cholesterol and Incident Coronary Heart Disease. J Am Heart Assoc. April 2012. [Epub ahead of print.]
 Munday JS et al. Daily supplementation with aged garlic extract, but not raw garlic, protects low density lipoprotein against in vitro oxidation. Atherosclerosis. 1999;143:399-404.