Garlic supplements help prevent heart disease, right? Well, it depends. A rigorous review of double-blind studies that investigated garlic's ability to lower blood cholesterol shows the effects to be only modest and perhaps "...not clinically meaningful." But here's the rest of the story.

In this case, name brand products may make all the difference. Countering the garlic supplements investigation is a highly compelling and convincing four-year study of 280 subjects taking Kwai garlic tablets (900 mg per day) or placebo. A significant reduction of plaque was seen in women (but not in men), despite no apparent effect on blood cholesterol (23 percent of the garlic subjects dropped out due to "annoyance by odor"). This study suggests that Kwai garlic reduces atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup) and may reduce heart disease risk.

Perhaps more than any other botanical product, the brand of garlic chosen is critical, with often dramatic differences existing between products. Moreover, different products may behave differently in relation to what the product "releases" into the intestines for absorption. The label alone may not reflect the bioavailability of the garlic supplement. Discuss options with your health care provider.

Nutrition and exercise biochemist Anthony Almada, M.S. has collaborated on more than 45 university-based studies and is founder and chief scientific officer of IMAGINutrition.