Malcolm Roberts claims the study shows garlic can cure COVID.
One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts claims the study shows garlic can cure COVID. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS

Senator’s garlic cure claim smells a little strange

Kate Atkinson June 8, 2023
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

A recent study has found that garlic can kill COVID-19.

OUR VERDICT

Misleading. The study was not conducted on humans and the findings show no medical treatment application.

A senator and former MP have misrepresented a study to suggest garlic could have helped the world overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is misleading. The study, funded by a garlic company and conducted by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, did not involve human testing and the research has not been published or peer-reviewed.

Experts told AAP FactCheck a lot more research was needed to prove it could be effective in humans, while the institute said its findings do not show any medical treatment application.

But this hasn’t stopped a senator and a former MP from making misleading claims about the pungent bulb.

One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts tweeted about the study on June 3, stating. “A world-first study from Doherty Institute reportedly says CERTAIN Australian garlic varieties kill Covid & flu with ‘99.9 per cent efficacy’ ÔǪ A virus so deadly, garlic cured 99.9% of cases?”

United Australia Party national director Craig Kelly was among others to make similar claims.

A screenshot of Craig Kelly's tweet.
 Former federal MP Craig Kelly’s tweet rails against vaccines and lockdowns. 

Mr Kelly quested how stupid the world must feel to have wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on a vaccine when garlic kills COVID.

These claims leave out important context about how the study was conducted and what it found.

The research, commissioned by Australian Garlic Producers (AGP), claimed to have found a certain garlic variety demonstrated antiviral activity against COVID and flu viruses in-vitro testing.

It doesn’t say it can cure or kill the flu or COVID.

In a press release, the Doherty Institute’s senior research officer, Dr Julie McAuley, said tests found one of AGP’s products could reduce the infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2 and Influenza A by 99.9 per cent. It did not specify which garlic variety or why its antiviral properties were so high.

The research findings were covered by multiple media outlets, as seen here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

The Doherty Institute told AAP FactCheck the research “involved in-vitro testing only of a range of garlic extracts to investigate potential antiviral activity against two viruses”.

“The findings of this lab-based study, released by AGP, do not show medical treatment application,” an institute representative said.

“Stringent clinical trials would need to be conducted to determine if these findings translate from test tubes to humans.”

United Australia Party national director Craig Kelly (file image)
 Craig Kelly is using the study to spread misinformation about vaccines and COVID. 

Ian Musgrave, a molecular pharmacologist at the University of Adelaide, said there was a long way to go before the garlic extracts could be considered as preventatives or treatments.

“Absorption and metabolism of the active components of garlic extracts may mean that the levels of these compounds may not reach levels that are effective in the body,” Dr Musgrave told AAP FactCheck.

“In the previous in-vitro studies, large concentrations of garlic extracts were needed to have an effect and garlic compounds are readily broken down and do not enter the body at the levels required to inhibit viral reproduction.

“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 the prevention and/or treatment of influenza let alone COVID.”

Dr Musgrave also pointed to a clinical trial testing the effects of garlic extract in hospitalised COVID-19 patients which showed no significant effect on infection recovery.

A researcher at work at the Peter Doherty Institute (file image)
 The Doherty Institute says the study doesn’t show garlic has any medical applications. 

Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist from the University of Wollongong, said without published data, it was impossible to know if this specific garlic had any benefit against COVID-19 or influenza.

“In addition, this sort of research is done in petri dishes in a lab – to know if garlic is beneficial we would need actual clinical trials in human beings,” he told AAP FactCheck.

Dr Musgrave also told the ABC’s Media Watch program ingested garlic rarely survives the digestive tract to reach a useful concentration in the body.

“The major issue and really serious effects is the virus binding in the lungs (and the effects on circulation and the heart), so affecting the GI tract is not likely to have a significant impact on the course of COVID.”

When contacted for comment, AGP pointed AAP FactCheck to a statement on its website saying the research findings are subject to commercial in-confidence.

The Verdict

The claim a study found that garlic can kill COVID-19 is misleading.

The study, funded by a garlic company, was performed in-vitro and did not include human testing. The medical institute behind the research said the findings do not show medical treatment application.

Experts told AAP FactCheck until human clinical trials are carried out, no claims can be made about the effectiveness of the garlic extracts for the prevention and treatment of influenza or COVID-19.

Misleading ÔÇô The claim is accurate in parts but information has also been presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted.

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