A historical perspective on garlic and cancer

J Nutr. 2001 Mar;131(3s):1027S-31S. doi: 10.1093/jn/131.3.1027S.


Epidemiological and laboratory studies provide insight into the anticarcinogenic potential of garlic and its constituent compounds. Both water- and lipid-soluble allyl sulfur compounds are effective in blocking a myriad of chemically induced tumors. Part of the protection from these compounds probably relates to a block in nitrosamine formation and metabolism. However, blockage in the initiation and promotion phases of the carcinogenicity of various compounds, including polycyclic hydrocarbons, provide evidence that garlic and its constituents can alter several phase I and II enzymes. Their ability to block experimentally induced tumors in a variety of sites including skin, mammary and colon, suggests a general mechanism of action. Changes in DNA repair and in immunocompetence may also account for some of this protection. Some, but not all, allyl sulfur compounds can also effectively retard tumor proliferation and induce apoptosis. Changes in cellular thiol and phosphorylation stains may account for some of these antitumorigenic properties. The anticarcinogenic potential of garlic can be influenced by several dietary components including specific fatty acids, selenium, and vitamin A. Since garlic and its constituents can suppress carcinogen formation, carcinogen bioactivation, and tumor proliferation it is imperative that biomarkers be established to identify which individuals might benefit most and what intakes can occur with ill consequences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allyl Compounds / pharmacology
  • Allyl Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair / drug effects
  • Diet*
  • Garlic / chemistry
  • Garlic / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Immunocompetence
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Nitrosamines / metabolism
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Sulfides / pharmacology
  • Sulfides / therapeutic use*


  • Allyl Compounds
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Nitrosamines
  • Sulfides
  • allyl sulfide