A 2007 study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute(NIH) and the American Heart Association found that garlic and its extract allicin may benefit cardiovascular health by stimulating production of hydrogen sulfide in the body. Hydrogen sulfide is known to relax blood vessel cells and through this mechanism may be able to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. This study thus helps account more precisely for the observed capacity of garlic and garlic components to support cardiovascular health.
Here’s the abstract of the study, as given by the Office of Dietray Supplements at the NIH:
Studies suggest that regular garlic intake is associated with reduction in the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, platelet aggregation, and blood coagulation. However, the constituents in garlic and the mechanisms by which they confer such protection are not well understood. When garlic is crushed, allicin, the major organosulfur compound, is decomposed to organic polysulfides by the enzyme allinase. Through a series of in vitro experiments with human erythrocytes and isolated aorta segments from rats, it was shown that these polysulfides are metabolized and increase the production of hydrogen sulfide in blood vessels. Hydrogen sulfide is a cell-signaling molecule produced in vascular smooth muscle cells and erythrocytes that diffuses through plasma membranes and
induces smooth muscle cell relaxation. In a series of studies, the vasoactivity of various garlic polysulfides was directly associated with their yields of hydrogen sulfide. These experiments provide a mechanism by which garlic works to lower cardiovascular risk. They also suggest that the potency of garlic supplements could be standardized based on their ability to produce hydrogen sulfide in relevant blood cells and tissues.
Reference: GA Benavides, et al. Hydrogen sulfide mediates the vasoactivity of garlic. In Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences (Proc Natl Acad Sci) 2007 104(46):17977-17982.
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