Mesothelioma Nutrition Spotlight: Garlic and Cancer

Raw garlic

As a key ingredient in a wide range of recipes, garlic is a familiar food in many kitchens, yet the plant’s benefits extend far beyond adding flavor to dinner.

While stomach and prostate cancer are most receptive to the effects of garlic, all forms of cancer including malignant mesothelioma may display positive results from garlic consumption.

Used since ancient times for both culinary and medicinal purposes, garlic is a relative of the onion and the leek and bears four edible components: the root bulb, leaves, stems and flowers. Cloves, the most commonly used part of the plant, are separated once the bulb is split and stripped of its papery covering. This skin is the only inedible part of the plant. The cloves can be made into oil or used whole, diced or crushed.

Integrated in global cuisines for its versatile flavor, the plant has also been consumed for thousands of years for its potential health benefits. Studies have proven garlic to be medicinally beneficial for individuals with cancer, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

When the bulb is cut, allicin, a chemical with anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, is released. In a study where mice with cancer were injected with allicin, those not injected with the compound lived an average of two months while those given the injection survived an average of six months or longer.

While observational studies on garlic consumption are more frequent than clinical studies, 28 of 37 observational studies have concluded that moderate garlic consumption is beneficial to overall health; they also show strong evidence that garlic can help prevent cancer.

Garlic contains several phytochemicals (chemical compounds naturally appearing in plants) that contain sulfur; these phytochemicals include beta-caroten, caffeic acid, allyl sulfur and diallyl disulfide. Allyl sulfur, a compound also found in onions, is primarily responsible for garlic’s cancer-fighting properties, making cells more vulnerable once divided. Cancer cells divide at such a rapid rate that they are extremely susceptible to hazardous stressors; allyl sulfur helps prevent tumors from forming while leaving healthy cells essentially unaffected.

Diallyl disulfide (DADS) is produced during the breakdown of allicin and has a similar cancer-inhibiting quality, although the chemical reaction that produces DADS begins when raw garlic is peeled or damaged. According to medical professionals, the entire process takes approximately 15 minutes to complete and cooking the garlic only after the reaction has finished will activate its cancer-fighting potential.

Garlic also boosts the immune system by stimulating white blood cell production. In patients who have exceeded the four to eight month mesothelioma life expectancy or even gone into full remission of the cancer, the majority had engaged in a form of immune enhancing therapy or clinical immunology trials. This has led researchers to believe that a strong immune system is crucial in defeating mesothelioma.

As with any supplementation or dietary change, cancer patients should consult with their physician before making any nutritional alterations to their diet.


Joining the team in February 2008 as a writer and editor, Michelle Whitmer has translated medical jargon into patient-friendly information at Asbestos.com for more than eight years. Michelle is a registered yoga teacher, a member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, and was quoted by The New York Times on the risks of asbestos exposure. If you have a story idea for Michelle, please email her at michelle@asbestos.com.

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