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Garlic for the common cold

  • Review
  • Intervention

Authors


Abstract

Background

Garlic is alleged to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties that relieve the common cold, among other beneficial effects. There is widespread usage of garlic supplements. The common cold is associated with significant morbidity and economic consequences. On average, children have six to eight colds per year, and adults have two to four.

Objectives

To determine whether garlic (allium sativum) is effective for either the prevention or treatment of the common cold, when compared to placebo, no treatment or other treatments.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2009, issue 1), which includes the Acute Respiratory Infections Group Specialised Register; OLDMEDLINE (1950 to 1965); MEDLINE (January 1966 to March Week 3, 2009); EMBASE (1974 to March 2009); and AMED (1985 to March 2009).

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials of common cold prevention and treatment comparing garlic with placebo, no treatment or standard treatment.

Data collection and analysis

Two review authors independently reviewed and selected trials from searches, assessed and rated study quality, and extracted relevant data.

Main results

Of the five trials identified as potentially relevant from our searches, only one trial met the inclusion criteria. This trial randomly assigned 146 volunteer participants to either a garlic supplement (with 180 mg of allicin content) or a placebo (once daily) for 12 weeks. The trial reported 24 occurrences of the common cold in the garlic intervention group compared with 65 in the placebo group (P < 0.001), resulting in fewer days of illness in the garlic group compared with the placebo group (111 versus 366). The number of days to recovery from an occurrence of the common cold was similar in both groups (4.63 versus 5.63). Because only one trial met the inclusion criteria, limited conclusions can be drawn. The trial relied on self-reported episodes of the common cold, but was of reasonable quality in terms of randomisation and allocation concealment. Adverse effects included rash and odour.

Authors' conclusions

There is insufficient clinical trial evidence regarding the effects of garlic in preventing or treating the common cold. A single trial suggested that garlic may prevent occurrences of the common cold, but more studies are needed to validate this finding. Claims of effectiveness appear to rely largely on poor quality evidence.

Plain language summary

Garlic for the common cold

Garlic is popularly believed to be useful for the common cold. This belief is based on traditional use, and some laboratory evidence that garlic has antibacterial and antiviral properties. We looked for studies that investigated the use of garlic for either preventing or treating people with the common cold. Of the five studies identified, only one fulfilled the criteria for the review. This study of 146 participants found that people who took garlic every day for three months (instead of a placebo) had fewer colds. When participants experienced a cold, the length of illness was similar in both groups (4.63 versus 5.63 days). While this one study was positive, there is a need for large, high quality randomised controlled trials to support these findings. Possible side effects in this small trial included odour and a skin rash. More information is needed about the possible side effects of garlic.

There is no information from randomised controlled trials about whether taking garlic at the time of a cold reduces either symptom severity or the number of days of illness.

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