“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” isn’t just a cutesy old saying, it turns out. New research in the UK suggests that were adults aged 50 and over to consume an apple every day, it would prevent an estimated 8,500 heart-related deaths, like heart attacks and strokes. The effects would be on par with giving statins to those over 50 who do not already take them. Even for those taking statins, the message is clear: By no means should you stop, but certainly eat more apples.
Statins are popular because they’ve been shown to reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease, even in those who show no underlying risk factors. Still, lifestyle changes are commonly recommended as the first step in preventing heart disease, which includes eating apples.
Using mathematical models a team of researchers at the University of Oxford set out to test (for some reason) how a 150 year old proverb might compare with the more widespread use of statins in the UK population. They analyzed the effect on the most common causes of vascular mortality of prescribing either a statin a day to those not already taking one or an apple a day to everyone aged over 50 years in the UK.
The researchers estimated 17.6 million people who did not already would receive statins if offered as a primary heart disease prevention method, while for the apples they assumed a 70% compliance rate of eating one per day, or around 22 million people.
The results? Giving statins to 17.6 million people would prevent would prevent about 9,400 vascular deaths, while giving apples to 22 million people daily would prevent something on the order of 8,500. Not a bad turnaround for the fruit that doomed humanity in Genesis.
Even better news for apple lover, while statins might be marginally more effective at preventing disease, side-effects from mean that prescribing statins to everyone over the age of 50 is predicted to lead to over a thousand extra cases of muscle disease (myopathy) and over ten thousand extra diagnoses of diabetes. No one ever got myopathy from eating apples.
“This study shows that small dietary changes as well as increased use of statins at a population level may significantly reduce vascular mortality in the UK,” say the authors.
“This research adds weight to calls for the increased use of drugs for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease, as well as for persevering with policies aimed at improving the nutritional quality of UK diets,” they conclude.
Dr Adam Briggs of the BHF Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University 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.’ It just shows how effective small changes in diet can be, and that both drugs and healthier living can make a real difference in preventing heart disease and stroke.”
Again, if you’re already prescribed statins, please continue to take them. The point is, we would all be better off eating more fruit.
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