VICUS.COM (21 July 2000) -- "As soon as the topic of
alternative and complementary medicine comes up, the initial reaction
is to either dismiss it or embrace it unequivocally." However,
cautioned Richard Rivlin, M.D., "the truth most often lies
somewhere in between."
Rivlin is in a position to know. He is program director of the clinical
nutrition research unit at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer
Center in New York City and professor of medicine and chief of the
nutritional division of the Weill Medical College of Cornell
University, also in New York City. From this vantage point, he has
been able to test many ancient remedies to determine the rationale for
claims made in support of their use as cancer-fighting agents.
Throughout history, garlic has
been used all over the world for its medicinal effect. Ancient
Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Koreans and Chinese
all claimed garlic had healing properties. Hippocrates
reportedly used garlic in the fifth century B.C. to treat
infections like leprosy. In 1858, Louis Pasteur reported
favorably on the anti-bacterial activity of garlic.
During his lecture on
July 17, the opening day of the Nutracon 2000 conference in Las Vegas,
Nev., Rivlin highlighted two agents -- garlic and resveratrol -- that
have a long history of clinical use and are now recognized as having
scientifically defined anti-cancer activities as well as possible
The ancient Greeks looked upon garlic as a performance-enhancing
drug and officially sanctioned it for this use during the first
Olympic Games. And the Greeks were not alone in their appreciation for
the benefits of garlic. Evidence from ancient civilizations in China
and South America, as well as other parts of the world, shows that
garlic was used to treat diseases of the heart and for increasing the
capacity to do work.
Modern research is now confirming what was observed clinically by
these ancient societies. For example, components of the active
ingredients in garlic have been shown in the laboratory to inhibit the
growth of prostate and breast cancer cells, according to Rivlin.
Garlic may also have a beneficial effect on two risk factors for
atherosclerosis - hyperlipidemia and hypertension (Ali, et al.,
According to Rivlin, "Crushing or cutting garlic initiates a
cascade of reactions and compounds that are known to provide different
"What is needed," he continued, "is agreement on
standardizing the active ingredients."
His preference is to standardize garlic based on one of its
water-soluble derivatives that have direct actions and can be measured
in blood. The current tendency is to standardize around allicin, which
is a volatile compound formed after crushing garlic. But allicin is
rapidly degraded and cannot be measured in blood.
Resveratrol is a promising anti-cancer agent. "There is
relatively little," according to Rivlin, "in grape juice or
white wine. However, it is found in the skin and seeds of grapes, as
well as in peanuts."
Grape leaves were used as a primary treatment for heart disease and
infection in ancient medicine. In the past few years, we have learned
the scientific basis for this use. Rivlin listed several documented
effects of resveratrol, including antioxidant properties and
the ability to inhibit platelet aggregation.
It is also known to inhibit carcinogenesis caused by hydrocarbons,
inhibit programmed cell death (apoptosis) and inhibit parts of the
cytochrome P-450 system involved in drug and carcinogen metabolism.
All of the studies Rivlin referred to were done using these
compounds in the laboratory. He quickly pointed out that studies
conducted in the laboratory may provide promising results, but they
must be studied in humans to confirm their value.
These studies are taking place in many areas of clinical interest,
and they will help confirm the appropriate role for these and other
ancient medicines in the treatment of modern diseases.
Jr., Pharm.D., is senior vice president of medical
communications at Vicus.com. He is a pharmacist and medical writer
with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.
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