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Wednesday
Nov162011

Garlic Oil Can Protect Hearts, Researchers Find

Blue Jean Images/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Garlic oil contains a compound that might one day be given to patients to minimize damage from heart attacks and heart surgery, and improve cardiac function in heart failure.

For now, however, the hearts benefiting from diallyl trisulfide belong to mice in the laboratories of Emory University researchers in Atlanta.  Researchers there have found that a synthetic, highly purified version of the compound protects the heart in the same way as hydrogen sulfide gas, which is known for its noxious, rotten-egg odor.

In high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide is a potent poison: Just a few breaths can be fatal.  But in small amounts that the body makes, hydrogen sulfide serves several key functions.  It reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure and keeps cells from committing suicide through the process of apoptosis.

After a heart attack or heart surgery has interrupted the flow of oxygen-rich blood to tissues, hydrogen sulfide allows oxygen to keep reaching the heart muscle.  Unfortunately, hydrogen sulfide gas is unstable and dissipates quickly.

David Lefer, a surgery professor and director of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Research Laboratory at Emory University Hospital Midtown, has spent years studying naturally produced gases that shield hearts from damage.  He’s enthusiastic about the therapeutic potential of DATs and other compounds that release hydrogen sulfide gas once they interact with cells.

“We believe that sulfide drugs are ideal for injections in emergencies such as heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular shock and trauma,” Lefer told ABC News.  He said he and his team foresee using injectable versions for acute emergencies and oral formulations “for more chronic diseases such as heart failure, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and inflammatory diseases.”

Two of Lefer’s postdoctoral fellows were scheduled on Wednesday to present findings (listed below) from mouse studies of hydrogen sulfide-releasing compounds at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference in Orlando, Fla.:

-- Benjamin Predmore gave mice simulated heart attacks by temporarily blocking their coronary arteries.  He then injected purified diallyl sulfide directly into their bodies before allowing blood to reach their heart muscles again.  The injections reduced damaged tissue by 61 percent, when compared with untreated animals, Predmore found.

-- Kazuhisa Kondo gave mice with simulated heart attacks twice-daily injections of DATs, which also reduced the amount of tissue damage they suffered, Lefer said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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