Getting hearty with garlic

Pharmacist Lim Su Ee tells us more on why garlic isn’t just a condiment.

Are you for or against garlic? Its pungency makes it so there are either hardcore fans or ones who abhor it. However, what if we told you that it could improve your heart health and that there is a way around the smell?

1. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE HEALTH ISSUE THAT IS AFFECTING MALAYSIANS? WHY IS THIS SO?

According to the ‘Statistics on Causes of Death, Malaysia, 2017’ from the Department of Statistics Malaysia, ischaemic heart disease or coronary artery disease was the principal cause of death with 11,310 cases (13.2 percent) in 2016; and 11,018 cases (13.7 percent) in year 2015.

Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), a condition where there is high level of cholesterol presence in the blood, is an established risk factor for coronary artery disease. The condition is mainly due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors such as weight, diet and stress.

From the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2015, a national household survey of Malaysians that is carried out at four yearly intervals, 47.7 percent of the 19,935 recruited respondents aged 18 years old and above were found to be having hypercholesterolemia. The prevalence of hypercholesterolemia in Malaysia continued to increase from 32.6 percent in 2011 to 47.7 percent, a relative increase of 46 percent.

2. CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE REMAINS THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN MALAYSIA. HOW IS THIS PREVENTABLE?

The most important thing in order to prevent or minimise the risk of cardiovascular disease is lifestyle change. Living a healthy lifestyle not only keep our body fit and healthy, it keeps our blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose in check which in turn lowers the risks for heart attack.

Next is, choosing foods that are low in saturated and trans-fat help prevent high cholesterol levels in the blood. Salt intake should be limited in our diet to maintain a healthy blood pressure. We often overlook the salt content in processed and preserved food. Reducing the intake of those foods will greatly reduce the overall daily salt intake. Reducing and limiting the intake of sugar will minimise the risk of getting diabetes.

Picking up any physical activities that we enjoy doing will help us maintain an active lifestyle. Coupled with a healthy diet, our body weight will be in check besides improving our cardiovascular health.

Besides the steps to prevent cardiovascular disease, certain supplements help lower our cholesterol level, blood pressure as well as blood sugar level. A very good example of supplement that will help maintain a healthy cholesterol level is garlic.

3. WHAT KIND OF NUTRIENTS CAN IT PROVIDE, AND CAN THESE NUTRIENTS IMPROVE OUR HEALTH?

There are two main types of cholesterol – high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is also known as the ‘good cholesterol’, whereas LDL is also known as the ‘bad cholesterol’. Too much ‘bad cholesterol’ in our arteries may lead to a build-up of plaque. This will increase the blood clots in our arteries which greatly increase the risk of getting a stroke or heart attack.

Studies have shown that garlic supplementation has significant effects in increasing the HDL, and lowering the LDL as well as total cholesterol.

4WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GARLIC AS A SUPPLEMENT AND EATING IT IN OUR FOOD?

Both garlic supplementations in the form of pill as well as fresh raw garlic offers the benefits of maintaining a healthy cholesterol level in our body. Aged garlic is also a good form of garlic to use for supplementation since it does not have a fresh garlic scent. Microwaving garlic will partly destroy the beneficial components of it. If we decide to take garlic in the form of food, our best bet will be raw fresh garlic, grilled or roasted garlic. Grilling and roasting will not damage the bio-actives, provided the garlic is sliced or crushed beforehand. For those who can’t stand the strong scent of fresh raw garlic, opting to take it in a form of pills is equally effective.

5. WHAT ARE THE ADDITIONAL BENEFITS OF GARLIC SUPPLEMENTS BESIDES IMPROVING OUR HEART HEALTH?

Studies have shown that garlic has notable effect in reducing blood pressure as well. Certain studies also show that garlic may act as a fungicide if applied topically as short-term treatment.

Picking up any physical activities that we enjoy doing will help us maintain an active lifestyle. Coupled with a healthy diet, our body weight will be in check besides improving our cardiovascular health.

6. WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE INTERACTIONS THAT COULD OCCUR WHEN TAKING GARLIC SUPPLEMENTS?

Garlic might slow blood clotting. Avoid taking garlic with other medications that slows blood clotting such as warfarin and aspirin. Garlic might also interact and decrease the effectiveness of oral contraceptive pills. Hence, do consider using an additional form of birth control such as condoms. Please consult your healthcare providers before starting on any supplementations.

7. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE HOME ADVICE TO OUR READERS ABOUT THEIR HEART HEALTH?

A healthy diet and active lifestyle coupled with suitable supplementations are what contributes to a healthy heart. We are spoiled with the many choices of food here in Malaysia. Some are high in salt while others are high in unhealthy fats. Allowing yourselves to moderately indulge in some of those foods every now and then will not jeopardise our healthy diet plan. What matters most is your overall diet and lifestyle in the long run. Do not hesitate to consult your healthcare providers and friendly pharmacists for more information.

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