COVID garlic cure is spin over substance

“Covid garlic cure” headlines were splashed across the country this week saying the vegetable could be used to fight COVID-19 but Australian experts have raised concerns about these claims.

The stories were triggered by media releases from the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Garlic Producers Pty Ltd, with the latter commissioning the Doherty Institute to conduct the research.

The releases claimed that Australian-grown garlic varieties demonstrate antiviral activity of up to 99.9% efficacy against the viruses that cause COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and the common flu (influenza type A). No peer-reviewed research was provided to accompany the media releases.

“This appears to be extremely early, lab-bench research showing that an extract from garlic may inhibit activity in some respiratory viruses,” says Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, from the University of Wollongong.

“This is the very first step to a successful treatment, however, the vast majority of potential treatments that reach this stage fail to prove useful. We won’t know if this product helps with COVID-19 or influenza until we run clinical trials in real people, rather than petri dishes in a lab.”

Those words of caution were echoed by Dr Ian Musgrave from the University of Adelaide who said that the way the body absorbs and metabolises the active components of a garlic extract may mean that these compounds may not even reach levels that are effective in the body.

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“Overall, while the results reported by the Doherty Institute are interesting, until clinical trials have been done no claims can be made about the effects of these extracts for prevention and/or treatment of influenza let alone COVID-19,” he said.

The President of The Science Journalists Association of Australia, Bianca Nogrady, said this media release should never have been reported.

“A study suggesting garlic extract kills virus particles in a petri dish or test tube is light-years away from garlic slowing the spread of viral infection in a human body, let alone in a population. Suggesting it’s a mere scientific hop from one to the other is the sort of mistake that fuelled the rampant spread of misinformation during the pandemic.”

Nogrady also highlighted that much of the reporting had no independent comment, no detailed explanation of the scientific method or results, and no upfront qualification that this was a laboratory study not a clinical study in humans.

“It’s essentially an advertorial for garlic masquerading as ‘Scientists say…’.”

This article originally appeared in Science Deadline, a weekly newsletter from the AusSMC. You are free to republish this story, in full, with appropriate credit. 

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