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J Nutr. 2001 Mar;131(3s):1067S-70S.

Enhanced immunocompetence by garlic: role in bladder cancer and other malignancies.

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Department of Urology, Robert C. Byrd Health Science Center West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506-9251, USA.


Of the many beneficial actions of garlic, inhibition of the growth of cancer is perhaps the most remarkable. Our previous animal studies demonstrated that aged garlic extract was highly effective, and unlike the approved immunotherapy for human bladder cancer, bacillus Calmette--Guérin (BCG), garlic was effective when added to the diet. To elucidate the mechanism of this antitumor effect, the literature describing antitumor and immune-enhancing effects of garlic is reviewed. Garlic can detoxify carcinogens by stimulation of cytochrome P(450) enzymes, antioxidant activity or sulfur compound binding. Studies demonstrate a direct toxic effect of garlic to sarcoma and gastric, colon, bladder and prostate cancer cells in tissue culture, but these effects cannot explain the inhibition of growth of transplanted cancer in animal models. The most likely explanation of this effect is immune stimulation. Comparison of the effects of garlic to BCG immunotherapy reveals many similarities. Both stimulate proliferation of lymphocytes and macrophage phagocytosis, induce the infiltration of macrophages and lymphocytes in transplanted tumors, induce splenic hypertrophy, stimulate release of interleukin-2, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interferon-gamma, enhance natural killer cell, killer cell and lymphokine-activated killer cell activity. These activities represent effective stimulation of the immune response. Studies suggest that garlic may be useful in preventing the suppression of immune response that is associated with increased risk of malignancy. Data suggest that maintenance of immune stimulation can significantly reduce the risk of cancer. Clinical trials should be initiated to test the hypothesis that the immune stimulation and other beneficial effects of garlic are able to reduce the incidence of cancer.

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