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Garlic a day may not keep doctor away

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Hold the mouthwash. A new study disputes the notion that eating garlic can lower cholesterol.

The 25 participants in the German study had high cholesterol and swallowed either a placebo or the equivalent of three to four cloves of garlic every day for six months.There were no significant changes in the participants' overall cholesterol levels, nor in their levels of "good" cholesterol or "bad" cholesterol.

"We were actually surprised how clearly negative the results were," said Dr. Heiner K. Berthold, a clinical pharmacologist at the University of Bonn. The findings were published in Tuesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Garlic, a folk remedy dating back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians, is thought by some to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

The bulbous herb contains allicin, which some studies have said acts as an antibiotic. The Egyptians used garlic on wounds, infections and intestinal parasites. British Army surgeons used it to control infection among soldiers in World War I.

The garlic used in the study was an oil preparation in pill form at a dosage high enough to produce breath odor and higher even than in some previous studies that found modest cholesterol-lowering benefits.

"The failure of this study to detect any significant effect in our view is certainly not surprising," said Dr. Ronald Krauss, chairman of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee and head of molecular medicine at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"This study qualifies as a solid scientific study. It's what people should be basing their thought-processes on," instead of on folklore.

Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington group that favors alternative therapies, said that the study was too small to be definitive and that the researchers examined only a garlic-oil preparation.

The results have no bearing on other forms of garlic, he said.