A regular serving of garlic could help to reduce your risk of lung cancer, according to scientists in China who have been studying the food’s potential. But before you get excited and start adding it to every dish you make, bear in mind that it needs to be raw!
Bad for Your Breath but Good for Your Lungs?
Scientists from China and the University of California, Los Angeles set about studying the protective effects of garlic (Allium sativum) after a number of previous experiments suggested the bulb-shaped plant may help to prevent cancer. The researchers looked at data on almost 6,000 people in China, including 1,424 lung cancer patients. Participants agreed to do face-to-face interviews so that the researchers could get an idea of their dietary habits and other lifestyle factors.
The researchers discovered that people who ate raw garlic at least twice per week had a reduced risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer. In fact, eating raw garlic this regularly was associated with a 44% reduced risk of the disease. And even in smokers, the risk of lung cancer was reduced by around 30%.
Writing in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, the scientists concluded that raw garlic “may potentially serve as a chemopreventive agent for lung cancer” but that more studies are needed to determine the exact components in the bulbs that provide these benefits.
What’s So Good About Garlic?
As the researchers admitted, nobody really knows how garlic might help to ward off lung cancer. But the link may well be due to an organosulfur chemical called allicin, which releases bioactive compounds when garlic is crushed or chopped. It is used by the plant to protect against pests and appears to have protective effects inside the human body as well. Research suggests that allicin may help to dampen chronic inflammation – a key factor in the growth and spread of tumors.
Another possibility is that the selenium in garlic may be responsible for its anti-cancer properties. It impacts upon DNA repair, cell death and the body’s hormone and immune systems, all of which could explain its potentially beneficial effects against cancer. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2006 found evidence that selenium compounds in garlic may have a role in cancer prevention and a number of other studies have found the mineral to be effective at warding off various types of cancer. In addition, a Cochrane review published in 2011 found that higher intakes of selenium were associated with a significantly reduced risk of cancer.
What Other Types Of Cancer May Garlic Fight?
According to the Association for International Cancer Research, garlic and other members of the allium family of vegetables probably protect against stomach cancer. The association also says that garlic in particular probably decreases the risk of bowel cancer. In addition, lab studies have provided evidence that components of garlic may slow or even halt the growth of prostate, bladder, bowel and stomach tumors.
Quitting Smoking Still the Best Way to Prevent Lung Cancer
Even if you decide to give garlic a try, the best way to avoid lung cancer is definitely to give up smoking. Almost nine out of ten cases of lung cancer are related to cigarette smoking, with a further 3% of cases caused by exposure to other people’s smoke. Although it takes a number of years for the lungs to recover, your risk of lung cancer will start to fall as soon as you give up.