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can garlic prevent the common cold?

A powerful cough. Nose blowing that rivals an air horn blast. Sneezes so severe that even good china in the next room isn't safe. What's happening here—and how can you prevent it from happening again?

An organism called a rhinovirus—so tiny that 15,000 lined up side by side would barely span the space between two words on this page—has entered your body. Finding a warm spot in your throat, this single virus has attached itself to a cell and commandeered the cell's own replicating capability. Office copiers should work so well: Within hours, that single virus can replicate itself more than 100,000 times. Odds are, this battle won't be won for another seven days—the average length of the dreaded common cold, the most widespread viral infection in the world.

How can you stop this misery?

You can't. The cold virus essentially has become part of you, part of your cells. The trick is to avoid the commandeering of your cells in the first place. But how do you do that—vitamin C?

Nope. Large doses of vitamin C-2,000 mg daily in four divided doses—during the weeks prior to catching a cold may lessen the seventy of the symptoms, but controversy reigns over whether vitamin C can actually shorten the duration of a cold. Some research also says that zinc gluconate lozenges or echinacea can shave a day or two off a cold's cycle.

But only one supplement has been proven to actually reduce your chances of coming down with a cold in the first place: garlic.

Studies have found that daily garlic supplements containing allicin—the major biologically active agent that the plant produces—reduce the risk of catching a cold by half. And garlic supplements seem to be effective in treating infections caused by the “superbug,” methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

In a 2001 study conducted in East Sussex, UK, half of the 146 volunteers were given one garlic capsule each day, while the remaining volunteers were given a placebo. Over a 90-day period, researchers recorded just 24 colds among those taking garlic supplements compared to 65 colds among those taking the placebo.

The same study found that those who did catch a cold while taking garlic capsules were more likely to make speedier recoveries than those taking the placebo.

Why? Plants don't have immune systems. They fight viruses and infections with chemical defenses. Allicin provides the defense that helps keep garlic plants healthy—and this plant defender also fights viruses in humans.

So how does allicin work? Well, actually, it doesn't. Scientists now realize that allicin—which is released only when a garlic clove is broken or crushed—is rapidly oxidized. As a result, more than 100 biologically active components are created: sulfur-containing compounds, proteins and saponins. Allicin still serves as a general marker of garlic's potency, but research increasingly points to Sallylcysteine and other compounds as the active ingredients in garlic.

For consistency, most scientific studies have used garlic extracts in capsule or liquid form. However, just about any form works. If you enjoy the taste, use garlic liberally in your food, but note that researchers have shown that heating or roasting can diminish garlic's potency unless the herb is chopped or crushed and allowed to stand for 10 minutes before cooking. If the taste and odor turn you off, opt for standardized—consistent strength—deodorized garlic capsules. Take between 400 and 7,000 mg daily.

Scientists have long sought a cure for the common cold—and that discovery may still be a long way off. Meanwhile, garlic supplements may be able to prevent over half the colds we might otherwise get. And when you come right down to it, prevention is better.

cold hard facts
The common cold is the most common disease of mankind.
Each person spends an average of 2 to 3 years of his or her life with a cold.
On average, adults suffer 2 to 4 colds per year.
Infants and children, on average, come down with 6 to 10 colds annually.
There are more than 200 know variants of the common cold.
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By Michael Downey

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