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Recycled PR release doesn’t tell us anything new about garlic

New study shows aged garlic extract can reduce dangerous plaque buildup in arteries

Our Review Summary

garlicThis release reports on a study looking at the effects of taking daily doses of a readily available garlic supplement on the buildup of so-called soft plaque in coronary arteries. After one year of supplementation the rate of accumulation of this plaque had been reduced by 80%, according to the release. Our greatest concern with the release is its unsubstantiated claims about the benefits and the serious conflicts of interest (plural) at play. The paper discussed in the release was published as a paid supplement to the Journal of Nutrition and presented at a symposium sponsored primarily by commercial interests from the nutrition industry.

[Editor’s note: In this review, we characterize the garlic study as being “not yet available” (see below under “Why This Matters”) because the release described the study as “scheduled to be published.” Our reviewers felt that the release’s description was explicit about the fact that the study was not published — and that if it had been published, the release should have noted this. An official from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute contacted us to clarify that the study was in fact published and available at the time the release was issued. We are passing this information along to readers.]

 

Why This Matters

If correct, this research would suggest a fairly easy and inexpensive way to reduce the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries which would be a boon in treating coronary artery disease. However, the release provides barely enough information to make such claims and is exceedingly vague in the specifics of the work. Moreover, the release touts a study scheduled to be published but not yet available. Writers lured by this release would do well to show justifiable caution.

Criteria

Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

This release makes no mention of the cost of this supplement in its discussion, although the supplement and its cost are easily available via the web. It would be nice to know what a year’s worth at the prescribed dose would cost.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The closing paragraph of the release claims that the supplement “had slowed total plaque accumulation by 80%, reduced soft plaque and demonstrated regression (less plaque on follow-up) for low-attenuation plaque.”  However, the opening paragraph of the release goes quite a bit further, stating that “the supplement Aged Garlic Extract can reverse the buildup of deadly plaque in arteries and help prevent the progression of heart disease” — a far more definitive claim than the release’s information can substantiate. There’s nothing in this release to suggest that the supplement affects any outcome that matters to patients such as actual heart attacks and strokes.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The release makes no mention of any harms that could arise from taking a garlic supplement although a quick web search shows potential negative side effects including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. There are also some indications that garlic may lower blood pressure, increase bleeding, and possibly irritate the intestinal lining, issues that should be of concern to some who might potentially take this supplement.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The release states that its conclusions are drawn from a randomized controlled and double-blinded study, which is good. But the small number of volunteers (55 total, aged 45 to 75) and the fact they all had metabolic syndrome detract from the study’s application to a wider audience. First off, metabolic syndrome patients are not adequate surrogates for the general population, and even if they were, a cadre of only 55 patients can never represent the broad public as a whole. Moreover, based on information in the release, the year-long study made no mention of controls for other possible variables (such as race and income) other than taking the garlic supplement. Perhaps the study incorporated such additional controls but if the release omits them, then readers cannot tell the quality of the conclusions that the release touts.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The release does not commit disease mongering.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

While this release does mention that the study was funded by a company that produces the garlic supplement and that the study’s main author received payments from that company, it doesn’t go nearly far enough with disclosures. The paper, published as a paid supplement to the Journal of Nutrition, needed to be labeled as such. Paid supplement articles differ from routine, peer-reviewed  papers published in the journal. The work was presented at a symposium sponsored primarily by commercial interests from the nutrition industry and the main author served as the paid chair of that meeting. All of this is information that readers should have to properly evaluate the value of the information.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The release only discusses the impact of a single commercial product, Aged Garlic Extract, which is produced by the company funding the research and one of the supporters of the conference at which the research was presented. It does not provide any information on other similar products although there are many available on the market. In addition, there are other ways to prevent or reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease including, but not limited to, avoiding smoking, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and weight and taking daily aspirin.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The Aged Garlic Extract mentioned in the release is readily available at health food stories and other venues.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

This release appears to be touting the same research that was the focus of a Los Angeles television station’s news report from 2014 quoting the same main author and generally reporting similar results.  If this is the case, this release fails to show any novelty that would warrant any additional news coverage, over and above any other weaknesses it includes.

Total Score: 3 of 10 Satisfactory

Comments (1)

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Stephen Cox, MD

February 1, 2016 at 9:28 am

Even though our “brilliant” congress has made the FDA edentulous to adequately control the vast and unscrupulous claims and wasted money by makers and sellers of “nutritional” supplements, one would think these inadequate claims and studies should not be allowed. Consumers have little defense for such false promotions. They should all read “Quackwatch, Healthfraud and Dr. Edzard Ernst posts on line to understand the facts and misinformation propagated by alternative health providers and the supplement industry.

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