Maybe an Apple a day Really Does Keep the Doctor Away
“An apple a day keeps the Doctor away” is an oft-recited proverb rooted in health folk lore. Is there science to support it? I’ll present some of the evidence behind such claims. I’ll also share one particularly intriguing study that compared the effectiveness of eating an apple a day to taking statin drugs to prevent heart disease and stroke.
This proverb is thought to come from ancient Rome, where it was believed that apples possessed a magical ability to cure illness. The idea that apples support health found its way to Europe and is still recited, in one form or another, all over the world today.
Apples have become a popular medical research focus.
They have been found to prevent or improve outcomes for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). I’ll present a referenced “lightening round” of scientific studies. You may go to the references provided below and the follow links directly to delve deeper into the science if you wish.
Risk is reduced in folks with the highest apple intake compared to those with the lowest intake [1,3].
Type 2 Diabetes
One study found that the risk of type 2 diabetes decreased 27% in women consuming one apple per day compared to those that consumed no apples [2,3].
Apple consumption may prevent bone loss by lowering net acid secretion which is associated with urinary calcium loss and osteoporosis .
Apple intake appears to result in potential positive impacts on dementia by improving cognitive performance, reducing oxidative stress, and improving memory performance . These findings are largely the result of tests on rodents but should signify positive implications for humans.
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
Many studies identify a relationship between apple consumption and reduced risk for vascular diseases including one that reported consuming at least one apple a week resulted in a 15% reduction in risk of death from CVD in women . This leads us to that intriguing “Apple a Day” study that I mentioned earlier.
An apple a day or statins for heart attack and stroke prevention?
Researchers in the United Kingdom (UK) conclude that a 150-year-old public health message: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is rooted in science. Dr Adam Briggs and colleagues modeled the effect of an apple a day on death from vascular diseases such as cerebrovascular and heart disease . The model covered the entire UK population aged 50 years and over. An apple a day was found to match the health benefits of statin drugs, with predictably fewer side effects.
Using mathematical models’ researchers tested how a 150-year-old proverb might compare with the more widespread use of statins in the UK population. They calculate that offering a daily statin to 17.6 million more adults would reduce the annual number of vascular deaths by 9,400 while offering a daily apple to 70% of the total UK population aged over 50 years (22 million people) would avert 8,500 vascular deaths.
Dr. Adam Briggs said: “The Victorians had it about right when they came up with their brilliantly clear and simple public health advice: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This study shows how small changes in diet can make a real difference in preventing heart disease and stroke.
- Fabiani R, Minelli L, Rosignoli P. Apple intake and cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Public Health Nutr. 2016;19(14):2603-2617.
- Song Y, Manson JE, Buring JE, Sesso HD, Liu S. Associations of dietary flavonoids with risk of type 2 diabetes, and markers of insulin resistance and systemic inflammation in women: a prospective study and cross-sectional analysis. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005;24(5):376-384.
- Hyson D. A comprehensive review of apples and apple components and their relationship to human health. Adv Nutr. 2011;2(5):408-420.
- Mink PJ, Scrafford CG, Barraj LM, et al. Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective study in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(3):895-909.
- Briggs Adam D M, Mizdrak Anja, Scarborough Peter. A statin a day keeps the doctor away: comparative proverb assessment modelling study. BMJ 2013; 347 :f7267
Wayne Coolidge, Jr., M.Ed., CHES is an author, speaker, and innovative Health Promotion Scholar-Practitioner. He owns Wayne Coolidge Health Promotion, a consulting firm specializing in healthy aging, nutrition, nutritional supplementation, fat loss, fitness, and disease prevention. His expertise is designing lifestyle-optimization strategies leading to positive genetic expression, controlled cellular aging, health, and wellness. He has accumulated more than 31,000 hours of one-on-one training and personal consultation experience over a 36-year career. You can email him at email@example.com.
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