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The health benefits of old, sprouting garlic studied

Don't throw out old, sprouting garlic -- it has heart-healthy antioxidants, says a new study on old garlic bulbs that have sprouted green shoots. "Sprouted" garlic — old garlic bulbs with bright green shoots emerging from the cloves — is considered to be past its prime and usually ends up in the garbage can. But scientists are reporting in the American Chemical Society's (ACS') Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that this type of garlic has even more heart-healthy antioxidant activity than its fresher counterparts.

What types of health benefits from eating a little garlic do scientists report?
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

On another note, you also may enjoy the article, "How walnuts and flaxseeds may improve your blood pressure and your reaction to stress." And when it comes to those green shoots that sprout from garlic as it ages, how many health benefits have been found in those green shoots from the garlic bulb you thought was kept too long? Have you ever thought of eating the cleaned green shoots of garlic that's sprouting?

You can check out the abstract of the study, "Garlic Sprouting Is Associated with Increased Antioxidant Activity and Concomitant Changes in the Metabolite Profile" published online February 10, 2014 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Jong-Sang Kim and colleagues note that people have used garlic for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Today, people still celebrate its healthful benefits. Eating garlic or taking garlic supplements is touted as a natural way to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure and heart disease risk.

It even may boost the immune system and help fight cancer. But those benefits are for fresh, raw garlic. Sprouted garlic has received much less attention. When seedlings grow into green plants, they make many new compounds, including those that protect the young plant against pathogens.

Kim's group reasoned that the same thing might be happening when green shoots grow from old heads of garlic

Other studies have shown that sprouted beans and grains have increased antioxidant activity, so the team set out to see if the same is true for garlic, says the February 26, 2014 news release, "Don't throw out old, sprouting garlic -- it has heart-healthy antioxidants." Researchers found that garlic sprouted for five days had higher antioxidant activity than fresher, younger bulbs, and it had different metabolites, suggesting that it also makes different substances.

Extracts from this garlic even protected cells in a laboratory dish from certain types of damage

"Therefore, sprouting may be a useful way to improve the antioxidant potential of garlic," they conclude, according to the news release. The authors acknowledge funding from the IPET High Value-Added Food Technology Development Program.

Although garlic (Allium sativum) has been extensively studied for its health benefits, sprouted garlic has received little attention. In the study's abstract, researchers hypothesized that sprouting garlic would stimulate the production of various phytochemicals that improve health.

Extracts from garlic are known as ethanolic extracts. This plant extract comes from garlic sprouted for different periods. In that study, the sprouted garlic had variable antioxidant activities when assessed with in vitro assays, including the 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl radical scavenging activity assay and the oxygen radical absorbance capacity assay, the study notes.

Extracts from garlic sprouted for 5 days had the highest antioxidant activity, whereas extracts from raw garlic had relatively low antioxidant activity, says the study's abstract. What happened as a result of the garlic sprouting is that the sprouting process actually changed the metabolite profile of garlic.

The result was that the metabolite profile of garlic sprouted for 5–6 days was distinct from the metabolite profile of garlic sprouted for 0–4 days, which is consistent with the finding that garlic sprouted for 5 days had the highest antioxidant activity. Therefore, sprouting may be a useful way to improve the antioxidant potential of garlic, says the research. The objective was to see what process led to the highest antioxidant activity in the garlic as it sprouted.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Garlic counteracts virulent bacteria

In another study, researchers found that aggressive multi-resistant infections constitute an increasing health problem all over the world. Bacteria are developing resistance at an alarming pace, so new pharmaceuticals that can combat this threat are in great demand.

"We know that there is a potent chemical compound in the garlic plant that neutralises resistant bacteria by paralyzing their communication system. My PhD thesis demonstrates that ajoene – the substance present in garlic – specifically prevents the bacteria from secreting the toxin rhamnolipid which destroys white blood cells in the body. White blood cells are indispensable because they play a crucial role in the immune defence system, not only warding off infection, but also killing bacteria," explains Tim Holm Jakobsen, PhD Student at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, who defended his thesis on February, 20, 2014, according to the February 18, 2014 news release, "Garlic counteracts virulent bacteria."

A tough sheath of biofilm

When bacteria clump together in what is known as biofilm – where they surround themselves with a tough film of organic materials – they become resistant to antibiotics. Researchers have been devoting much of their attention to Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, which cause infections in patients with chronic leg ulcers, for example, and in the lungs of patients suffering from cystic fibrosis.

"Ajoene supports and improves treatment with conventional antibiotics. We have clearly demonstrated this on biofilm cultivated in the laboratory and in trials involving mice. When we add antibiotics to biofilm they have very little effect, and ajoene alone barely makes any difference. It is only when the two are combined that something significant happens," explains Tim Holm Jakobsen in the news release.

Combination treatment with ajoene and antibiotics kills more than 90 per cent of the normally virulent biofilm. From a technical perspective, the ajoene blocks the communication system – known as Quorum Sensing – in the bacteria, which is used for purposes including creating infection.

Chemists outstrip nature

A large number of natural substances have proved extremely effective as medicines; taxol from the yew tree is used to treat breast cancer, for example, while artemisinin from sweet wormwood is effective against malaria. However, to improve on the original substances from nature – and to assure sustainable pharmaceutical production – researchers are working to augment natural materials through chemical synthesis.

"Garlic contains so little ajoene that you would need to eat around 50 a day to achieve the desired effect. This means we have to pick up the ball from Mother Nature and run with it," says Tim Holm Jacobsen, according to the news release. Jacobsen hopes that the pharmaceutical industry will be quick to turn its attention to producing of the natural substance to which the research group currently holds the patent.

"There's a lot of money in pharmaceuticals for treating chronic illnesses such as diabetes, but if we are to win the race against bacteria, we need to bring new antibiotics into play. Nature is a great starting point for developing medicines – two-thirds of all new pharmaceuticals are based on natural substances," concludes Tim Holm Jakobsen in the news release.

In another study, researchers found that garlic helps to relax arteries. Here's how it works: Garlic boosts hydrogen sulfide, which helps arteries to relax, according to the October 15, 2007 news release, "Garlic boosts hydrogen sulfide to relax arteries." You also can check out the news release, "Freshly crushed garlic better for the heart than processed." Or see, "Sustainably grown garlic," which are becoming popular with consumers.

How garlic relaxes arteries

When garlic boosts hydrogen sulfide to relax arteries, the polysulfides use their ability to liberate H2S within cells is behind the effect, the study on how garlic helps to relax arteries reports. Eating garlic is one of the best ways to lower high blood pressure and protect yourself from cardiovascular disease. A new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) shows this protective effect is closely linked to how much hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is produced from garlic compounds interacting with red blood cells.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researchers found this interaction triggered red blood cells to release H2S, which then led to the relaxation of blood vessels. Fresh garlic was used at a concentration equal to eating two cloves. The resulting H2S production caused up to 72 percent vessel relaxation in rat arteries.

Relaxation of your arteries is a first step to lowering blood pressure

This relaxation is a first step in lowering blood pressure and gaining the heart-protective effects of garlic, said David Kraus, Ph.D., a UAB associate professor in the Departments of Environmental Health Sciences and Biology and the study’s lead author, according to the news release.

The research team examined molecules in garlic called polysulfides and their ability to liberate H2S within cells. The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“When these garlic compounds are metabolized to H2S in the vascular system, the H2S targets membrane channels and causes smooth muscle cells to relax,” Kraus said in the news release. “So a garlic-rich diet has many good effects, and H2S may be the common mediator.”

A garlic rich diet's effects

Everything in moderation when it comes to diets. The findings about garlic add to a study by John Elrod and David Lefer, Ph.D., of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine published in PNAS that showed H2S protected hearts from the tissue and cell damage often seen in heart attack patients. The study, performed by Gloria Benavides, Ph.D., of UAB’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Kraus and others, is the first to show garlic-derived polysulfides in the diet boost bodily H2S production.

H2S is a toxic, flammable gas responsible for the smell of rotten eggs. It’s also produced naturally by the body in small amounts, and as age advances, H2S production dwindles. Exactly how H2S affords the cardiovascular system so much protection is not entirely clear, but it may involve limiting oxidative damage in cells, Kraus said, according to the news release.

“The role of garlic compounds in preventing platelet aggregation, which can trigger a heart attack or stroke, and in limiting cancer growth and the progression of several diseases is well documented,” he said in the news release.The findings show H2S may be the mediator for these protective benefits. Future studies are being planned to better understand how much H2S production is needed through garlic or supplements to maximize those benefits. The research is supported grants from the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health. You also may wish to see the news of a study on how garlic fights certain types of bacteria. Check out the news release, "Garlic counteracts virulent bacteria."

Freshly crushed garlic better for the heart than processed

Another study from 2009 reports what scientists term the first scientific evidence that freshly crushed garlic has more potent heart-healthy effects than dried garlic. That study is published in the August 12, 2009 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. You can check out the various studies on the health benefits/effects of garlic this year and for several years back in that journal.

The study also challenges the widespread belief that most of garlic's benefits are due to its rich array of antioxidants. Instead, garlic's heart-healthy effects seem to result mainly from hydrogen sulfide, a chemical signaling substance that forms after garlic is cut or crushed and relaxes blood vessels when eaten.

In the study, Dipak K. Das and colleagues point out that raw, crushed garlic generates hydrogen sulfide through a chemical reaction. Although best known as the stuff that gives rotten eggs their distinctive odor, hydrogen sulfide also acts as a chemical messenger in the body, relaxing blood vessels and allowing more blood to pass through. Processed and cooked garlic, however, loses its ability to generate hydrogen sulfide.

The scientists gave freshly crushed garlic and processed garlic to two groups of lab rats, and then studied how well the animals' hearts recovered from simulated heart attacks. "Both crushed and processed garlic reduced damage from lack of oxygen, but the fresh garlic group had a significantly greater effect on restoring good blood flow in the aorta and increased pressure in the left ventricle of the heart," Das said, according to the July 29, 2009 news release, "Freshly crushed garlic better for the heart than processed."

Other news about research on garlic and health benefits include, "Freshly crushed garlic better for the heart than processed," "A touch of garlic helps kill contaminants in baby formula," "Be careful when using garlic to treat childhood ailments," "New testing method hints at garlic's cancer-fighting potential,"
Stanford study drives stake through claims that garlic lowers cholesterol levels," "Ingredient in garlic protects against severe chronic pulmonary hypertension in rats," and "Queen's chemist sheds light on health benefits of garlic." You also may want to check out the site, "Science - Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract."

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