Women from Puerto Rico who ate garlic rich Sofrito had a 67% decrease in breast cancer risk than those who did not eat a garlic rich diet. Another study reported that the use of raw garlic two or more times a week had a preventative effect on developing liver cancer in Chinese population. Many observational studies have also shown a reduced risk of prostate cancer in those with a high intake of garlic. Some animal studies also suggested the potential of garlic intake in reducing skin cancer. These studies indicate that garlic intake is beneficial and has the potential to lower cancer risk.
Garlic is one of those herbs that it is almost impossible to cook without if you want your food to have flavor. A relative of onion, garlic is extensively used in Italian, Mediterranean, Asian and Indian cuisines (sauteed onions mixed with a ginger/garlic paste is the base to every great dish in this world), hence making it a herb that is enjoyed by people globally. Being that garlic is so widely used and has been used for such a large portion of history, there is a scientific interest on how a garlic based diet can interact and affect various types of cancers and cancer therapies in the body. And while a lot more research needs to be done, it is becoming increasingly clear that garlic does have a significant sway in being able to reduce the risk of various cancers.
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Association between Garlic Intake and Cancer Risk
Garlic and Breast Cancer Risk
Puerto Rico is a small Caribbean Island whose population intakes a high amount of garlic daily due to their popular consumption of sofrito. Sofrito, which contains a significant amount of onions and garlic, is a staple condiment of Puerto Rico used in a large variety of its food. Therefore, a study was done by the University at Buffalo in New York along with the University of Puerto Rico to study how garlic intake specifically affects breast cancer, a type of cancer that had not been studied in relation to garlic before. The study had a control of 346 women with no history of cancer other than non-melanoma skin cancer and 314 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Researchers of this study found that those who consumed sofrito more than once a day had a decrease in breast cancer risk of 67% compared to those who do not consume it at all (Desai G et al, Nutr Cancer. 2019 ).
The reason why garlic has garnered special interest recently is because of some of the active compounds that it contains that are known to have anti-carcinogenic properties. Compounds like allyl sulfur which are present in garlic slow down and sometimes are even able to stop the growth of tumors by adding a lot of stress on their cell division processes.
Garlic and Liver Cancer Risk
Liver cancer is a rare but lethal cancer that has a five year survival rate of just 18.4%. In 2018, 46.7% of patients diagnosed with liver cancer originated from China. In 2019, a study was conducted by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles to test how the intake of raw garlic could affect these liver cancer rates. The study was conducted in Jiangsu, China, from 2003 to 2010, during which a total of 2011 liver cancer patients and 7933 randomly selected population controls were documented. After adjusting for any other external variables, the researchers found that the “95% confidence interval for raw garlic consumption and risk of liver cancer was 0.77 (95% CI: 0.62–0.96) suggesting that raw garlic intake two or more times per week may have a preventive effect on liver cancer” (Liu X et al, Nutrients. 2019).
Garlic and Prostate Cancer Risk
- Researchers of China-Japan Friendship Hospital, China, evaluated the association between intake of allium vegetables including garlic and prostate cancer risk and found that garlic intake significantly decreased the risk of prostate cancer. (Xiao-Feng Zhou et al, Asian Pac J Cancer Prev., 2013)
- In a study published by the researchers in China and the United States, they evaluated the association between the intake of allium vegetables including garlic and the risk of prostate cancer. The study found that those with the highest intake of garlic and scallions had a significantly reduced risk of prostate cancer. (Ann W Hsing et al, J Natl Cancer Inst., 2002)
Garlic and Skin Cancer Risk
There aren’t many observational or clinical studies which evaluated the effect of garlic intake on skin cancer. Some studies in mice have suggested that Garlic consumption as part of the diet may help delay the onset of skin papilloma formation which can subsequently reduce the number and size of the skin papilloma. (Das et al, Handbook of diet, nutrition and the skin, pp 300-31)
The bottom line is that you should feel free to use as much garlic as you would like in your cooking because it potentially does have some strong anti-cancer properties and may help reduce the risk of liver, breast, prostate and skin cancers. On top of this, the benefit of garlic being such a widely used herb across the globe is that with an average intake, there really aren’t many harmful side effects that can occur other than the occasional bad breath!
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