There’s a high-end grocery/health food store near me. It’s one of those stores where almost everything is organic (even the tissues), there’s an in-house juice bar, and a large “wellness” section with loads of tinctures, essential oils, and other products. Think Whole Foods, but tiny, and with a dispensary for homeopathy. I get their flyer to my door periodically and while I don’t shop there, I keep an eye on the alternative medicine trends in the products they profile. Last week I spotted a product I hadn’t heard of, and some claims that looked…impressive:
I decided to take a closer look at this product. Alternative medicine approaches to allergies is a subject I’ve covered before, and I keep coming back to it because the consequences can potentially be harmful if products don’t work as directed, or if they are used in place of treatments that actually do work.
Garlic and allicin
Allimax is an allicin product, derived from garlic. Garlic (Allium sativum) needs no introduction given its culinary use, but it has a long history of medicinal uses as well. The medicinal effects are attributed to the bulb, where the cloves reside. The cloves themselves contain multiple chemical compounds, with the one of greatest interest being alliin, which is converted to allicin when the bulb is cut or crushed. It is the allicin which gives garlic its characteristic aroma. Depending on the method of preparation, supplements may have alliin, allicin, or different proportions of both.
Fresh garlic has been studied extensively and found to have numerous possible medicinal properties – in the laboratory. It may be antibacterial, but whether or not these effects can appear when garlic is ingested is a different question. It’s also been shown to have potential effects on parasites, fungi, viruses, blood lipids and more. Plus there are possible antioxidant effects. But from a practical perspective, like other supplements, we really need to look for clinical trials with the product in question.
Consuming is garlic is generally considered safe when consumed in amounts that would be expected in foods. In human studies, the most promising area of research has been in the study of garlic supplements to slow the progression of atherosclerosis where some brands of garlic powder supplement have shown positive effects on markers of heart disease. Whether this extends life or reduces the rate of cardiovascular events is not known. Heart associations don’t encourage garlic consumption, but neither do they discourage it.
The other area where garlic has the most promising research is in type 2 diabetes. A “natural” treatment for diabetes that could be incorporated into regular dietary habits would be tremendous. Overall, research suggests that different forms of garlic extract (powder, oil, aged extract), when taken regularly for several weeks, may reduce fasting blood sugar levels slightly. However I couldn’t find any major treatment guidelines that recommend garlic (or garlic supplements).
There is also preliminary but encouraging evidence for garlic supplements to have small (but beneficial) effects on cholesterol levels and on blood pressure.
Given the unique manufacturing process and the lack of standardization of garlic products, I looked specifically for clinical trials with allicin, and preferably the Allimax product.
Allimax, the product in the advertisement, is marketed as “stabilized allicin”. There is not much described in the manufacturing process, and no evidence is cited that there is any testing (independent or otherwise) to show how they came up with the 180mg capsule calculation. There is a dosing chart available, which provides Allimax doses for conditions ranging from acne to asthma to blood pressure to fungal infections to herpes to peptic ulcer to ringworm to “wounds”. Where these doses are derived from is not clear.
There is little on the Allimax websites with respect to evidence. (It recommends the reader consult Wikipedia, among other resources.) The articles page is” under construction”“. There is a 2007 announcement on the completion of a clinical trial in Lyme disease, but I could not find that it was published. (The manufacturer claims it is effective on their website.) There was a very rudimentary clinical trial with what may be Allimax when used for the prevention of the common cold, published in 2001. The Cochrane Review examined this study and commented in 2014 that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that garlic may prevent occurrences of the common cold. Allimax states that “No other garlic supplements contain ANY allicin” which if correct means that little if any of the garlic research I noted above is relevant to Allimax at all.
When I looked specifically for evidence for Allimax for the treatment of hay fever or for the prevention of insect bites, I could find no information that it had been studied. Moreover, there is no published evidence showing that garlic (in any form) is effective for these purposes.
It should be noted that the FDA wrote to the manufacturer of Allimax in 2021 and asked it to remove statements suggesting Allimax could prevent or treat COVID-19.
Supplements aren’t tasty like real garlic, and your mileage may vary
In general, I have found that a supplement’s effectiveness is often inversely proportional to the number of conditions a product it is claimed to treat. Garlic is an interesting herb from a culinary and medicinal perspective. Some forms of garlic supplements do have pharmacological effects which may provide meaningful (if modest) health benefits. But like any other supplement, in the absence of any standardization, it is a leap to assume evidence from one product is relevant to another (particularly since there is no guarantee the bottle actually contains anything listed on the label). What does seem fair to conclude is that there is no persuasive evidence that garlic or garlic supplements can prevent hay fever attacks or protect against insect bites. Moreover, there is no clear evidence that regularly consuming garlic or garlic supplements provides any meaningful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, or anti-fungal effects. I will continue to use garlic liberally in my cooking, and will await more published evidence for garlic supplements before recommending them.