The Allium genus includes garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, and chives. These vegetables are popular in cuisines worldwide and are valued for their potential medicinal properties. Epidemiologic studies, while limited in their abilities to assess Allium consumption, indicate some associations of Allium vegetable consumption with decreased risk of cancer, particularly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Limited intervention studies have been conducted to support these associations. The majority of supportive evidence on Allium vegetables cancer-preventive effects comes from mechanistic studies. These studies highlight potential mechanisms of individual sulfur-containing compounds and of various preparations and extracts of these vegetables, including decreased bioactivation of carcinogens, antimicrobial activities, and redox modification. Allium vegetables and their components have effects at each stage of carcinogenesis and affect many biologic processes that modify cancer risk. This review discusses the cancer-preventive effects of Allium vegetables, particularly garlic and onions, and their bioactive sulfur compounds and highlights research gaps.
©2015 American Association for Cancer Research.