In order to determine the impact of garlic on total cholesterol (TC), TAG levels, as well as LDL and HDL, and establish if any variables have an impact on the magnitude of this effect, a meta-analysis was conducted. A systematic literature search of MEDLINE, CINAHL and the Cochrane Database from the earliest possible date through to November 2007 was conducted to identify randomised, placebo-controlled trials of garlic that reported effects on TC, TAG concentrations, LDL or HDL. The weighted mean difference of the change from baseline (with 95 % CI) was calculated as the difference between the means in the garlic groups and the control groups using a random-effects model. Subgroup and sensitivity analyses were performed to determine the effects on type, brand and duration of garlic therapy as well as baseline TC and TAG levels, the use of dietary modification, and study quality on the meta-analysis's conclusions. Twenty-nine trials were included in the analysis. Upon meta-analysis garlic was found to significantly reduce TC ( − 0·19; 95 % CI − 0·33, − 0·06 mmol/l) and TAG ( − 0·11; 95 % CI − 0·19, − 0·06 mmol/l) but exhibited no significant effect on LDL or HDL. There was a moderate degree of statistical heterogeneity for the TC and TAG analyses. Garlic reduces TC to a modest extent, an effect driven mostly by the modest reductions in TAG, without appreciable LDL lowering or HDL elevation. Higher baseline line TC levels and the use of dietary modification may alter the effect of garlic on these parameters. Future studies should be conducted evaluating the impact of adjunctive garlic therapy with fibrates or statins on TAG concentrations.