An Apple a Day Keeps the Cardiologist Away

An Apple a Day Keeps the Cardiologist Away

Recent research seems to indicate that there is something to that old saying about "an apple a day" and what it keeps away. Two recent studies have found that eating apples lowers the blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol that has been linked to hardening of the arteries.


In the first study, 160 healthy women were assigned randomly to groups that ate 2.7 ounces per day (about a third of a cup) of either dried apples or dried prunes for a full year. Blood tests were taken at the 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month marks to measure a number of factors that have been associated with heart risk. After a year, the women who ate dried apples daily had lowered their overall cholesterol levels by 14%, and their levels of LDL by 23%. Their levels of the "good" cholesterol HDL had increased during this period by 4%. In addition, there was a 32% decline in another risk factor for heart disease, C-reactive protein, a known indicator of inflammation, and a similar decline in lipid hydroperoxide, a product of toxic free radicals that has been shown to cause cell damage and death.

The women who ate prunes saw minor reductions to these blood levels, but not nearly as much as the women who ate apples. Almost adding insult to injury, the women who ate apples lost an average of 3.3 pounds over the year, even though the fruit added an additional 240 calories per day to their diets. The women eating prunes lost no weight.

Dried fruit was used in this study rather than fresh fruit for convenience, but the researchers say that they would expect the same or better results to come from eating fresh apples of any variety – red, green, or golden.


A second study tests apples against supplements

In the more recent study, due to be published in the Journal of Functional Foods, 51 healthy, middle-aged adults were divided into three groups and their blood levels similarly tested. A third of the subjects ate fresh apples obtained from a local supermarket. Because this study was following up research in a Turkish study that seemed to indicate that the beneficial substance in apples was a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, a third of the subjects took capsules containing those polyphenols. The third group was given an inert placebo.

As expected, no blood level changes were found in the placebo group. Contrary to the researchers' expectations, only moderate changes were found in the group taking polyphenol supplements. But as in the previous study cited above, significant reductions in LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) were found in the group eating apples. Robert DiSilvestro, one of the authors of the study, comparing the blood levels of the apple group to the placebo group, says, "The difference was similar to that found between people with normal coronary arteries versus those with coronary artery disease." DiSilvestro described the effect of apples on lowering cholesterol as more effective than antioxidants such as curcumin (turmeric), tomato extract, and green tea.


So we should all stock up on apples, right?

Well, it wouldn't hurt. But researchers do point out that preparation of the apples is a factor. That is, the apples eaten in these studies were either fresh or dried, and without any added sugar. Cooking them up into an apple pie with a flaky lard crust and eating several slices of it a day is probably not going to have the cholesterol-reducing effects you're hoping for.

Also, doctors at the Mayo Clinic point out that apples are not the only food to have beneficial effects on lowering "bad" cholesterol levels. For example, oatmeal, pears, kidney beans, and barley all contain high amounts of soluble fiber, and have been shown to lower cholesterol levels. So have the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fresh fish and in fish oil supplements. Olive oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol, but only when used as a replacement for other oils in your diet, not just added to it. Also, many nuts can lower overall cholesterol levels, but again, be careful not to overdo it, because they're also full of calories.

By Juliette Siegfried
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