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Israeli experts put disease killer garlic under scrutiny

Israeli experts put disease killer garlic under scrutiny

Author: Megan Goldin, Rehovot (Israel)
Publications: The Indian Express
Dated: December 4, 2001

It stops vampires in their tracks, pulverises bacteria, cures athlete's foot and gives a tasty kick to spaghetti bolognese.

Garlic, a key ingredient of folklore, is being put to the test by some of Israel's leading scientists out to unlock the herb's secrets. Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science are focusing on allicin, a pungent compound that is nature's way of protecting garlic from insects, fungi and bacteria in the soil.

Weizmann Institute biochemist David Mirelman heads a four-person team that has cloned the gene for allicin, synthesised it and stabilised the highly volatile molecule which is responsible for all that is good and bad in garlic. The overwhelming odour of crushed garlic is the result of the chemical reaction that creates allicin by combining the substrate, allin, with an enzyme called allinase.

But tests conducted by Mirelman and a slew of scientific studies show that allicin is also highly effective at preventing high blood pressure, treating diabetes, curing diarrhoea, lowering the risk of heart attacks and killing cancer cells.

In laboratory tests on rats, they also found that garlic prevents weight gain and might even lead to weight loss.

Mirelman calls it a "wonder drug" and says it is in the league of aspirin, discovered over a century ago and still a staple multipurpose drug that is highly effective at preventing strokes, among many other things.

'Aspirin is not an antibiotic but it helps to prevent strokes, headaches, pain and so on ... Allicin has a proven effect on micro-organisms so it's an antibiotic; it kills micro-organisms," said Mirelman.

The Israeli biochemist stumbled on garlic's medicinal properties on a trip to China for a conference on dysentery. A Chinese physician there showed off his cure for the often deadly stomach illness - a bottle of crushed raw garlic soaked in alcohol.

"He gave dysentery patients a half a glass of the yellow liquid twice a day. I asked him how well it worked and he said it's been curing people for 5,000 years," said Mirelman.

So I took the recipe and studied it," he said. "I isolated each of the components in garlic to see if they were effective against a battery of micro-organisms and found the most effective component was allicin," Mirelman said.

"It was highly effective at killing a wide range of micro-organisms from fungi to bacteria and malaria," said Mirelman, who is trying to find a scientist with anthrax supplies to test whether allicin can kill anthrax spores.

Garlic has been a staple item in medicine chests from China to Italy for thousands of years. Its virtues were the subject of legends and fodder for ancient poets and the Bible, in which the Israelites bewailed the garlic left behind 1 in Egypt when they fled to the wilderness with Moses.

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