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Garlic and Onions Confer Potent Cancer Protection
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European trial is first to duplicate famous “China Project” studies and spread those results to Caucasians

by Craig Weatherby

Garlic is one of those foods with an ancient medicinal reputation that crosses geographic and cultural boundaries.

It’s been proven to aid cardiovascular health by improving blood pressure and cholesterol profiles, and garlic has substantial antibiotic powers. Both benefits are traceable to its sulfur compounds.

The hypothesized ability of vegetable-rich diets to reduce rates of cancer and heart disease became widely accepted following publication of phase I of the massive, extraordinarily credible epidemiological study known as “The China Project”.

(See “China Project Study Finds Fish Heart-Protective” for more information about it.)

And two years ago, researchers at USC’s Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles published results of a study conducted in two northwestern Chinese regions (Shanghai and Qingdao), which showed that higher intake of garlic and onions among people there appears to have reduced their risk of stomach cancers (Setiawan VW et al 2005).

European study extends encouraging Chinese results

Last November, Italian researchers published their analysis of data from an integrated network of Italian case-control studies that were conducted as part of the ongoing European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).

The studies compared the diets of 521,457 people in 10 European countries with their health status (Galeone C et al 2006).

The Italian analysts reported finding that the EPIC study participants who ate diets rich in garlic and onions ran considerably lower risks of developing eight common cancers, and that garlic appeared responsible for the biggest risk reductions.

Comparative cancer-curbing effects of garlic-rich diets

Compared with people reporting “low” garlic intake, those who reported “high” garlic intake enjoyed these remarkable risk reductions:

  • 88 percent lower risk of esophageal* cancer
  • 84 percent lower risk of oral cavity and pharynx* cancers
  • 83 percent lower risk of laryngeal* cancer
  • 73 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer
  • 71 percent lower risk of prostate cancer
  • 56 percent lower risk of colorectal (colon) cancer
  • 38 percent lower risk of renal cell (kidney) cancer.
  • 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer

*The esophagus is the 10-13 inch-long muscular tube running from the mouth to the stomach, the pharynx is the part of the throat located just behind the mouth, and laryngeal cancer affects the larynx, or voice-box, in the neck.

Comparative cancer-curbing effects of onion-rich diets

Compared with onion-poor diets, “high” onion intake was associated with these risk reductions:

  • 57 percent lower risk of esophageal cancer
  • 44 percent lower risk of laryngeal cancer
  • 39 percent lower risk of oral cavity and pharynx cancers
  • 31 percent lower risk of renal cell cancer
  • 26 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer
  • 22 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer
  • 19 percent lower risk of prostate cancer
  • 10 percent lower risk of breast cancer

The Italian group is now analyzing the data for any impacts on the risk of endometrial cancer or benign prostatitis (non-cancerous swelling in the prostate gland).

While we can’t be certain which chemicals in these vegetables are responsible, garlic and onion are both members of the allium familywhich includes leeksand contain overlapping sets of sulfur compounds with demonstrated anti-cancer powers.


  • Galeone C, Pelucchi C, Levi F, Negri E, Franceschi S, Talamini R, Giacosa A, La Vecchia C. Onion and garlic use and human cancer. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Nov;84(5):1027-32.
  • Setiawan VW, Yu GP, Lu QY, Lu ML, Yu SZ, Mu L, Zhang JG, Kurtz RC, Cai L, Hsieh CC, Zhang ZF. Allium vegetables and stomach cancer risk in China. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2005 Jul-Sep;6(3):387-95.

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