An apple a day keeps the doctor away – and might also keep the undertakers away. A new study suggests that eating an apple every day could prevent thousands of deaths from heart disease in the UK every year.
What do we know already?
Some people swear by the old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. But is there any truth to this?
Eating lots of fruit is generally considered to be good for our health. The Government recommends everyone eats at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, to lower the risk of heart disease.
For people who have heart problems caused by high cholesterol in the blood, taking a medicine called a statin every day reduces the risk of dying from heart problems. Often doctors recommend taking statins as well as doing things like eating a healthy diet.
Researchers wanted to know whether eating an apple a day, or taking a statin a day, would have more of an effect on the health of the whole population. Using a computer programme, they calculated how many deaths from heart problems would be prevented in the UK every year if everyone aged over 50 ate an apple daily or if everyone over 50, who wasn’t already doing so, took a daily statin.
What does the new study say?
The computer programme found that eating an apple or taking a statin every day would prevent thousands of deaths from heart disease in the UK every year. Eating an apple a day would cost more than statins, but statins would cause more side effects.
The programme made a number of assumptions. If these are true, the researchers calculated that if everyone over 50 took a daily statin:
- 17.6 million more people in the UK would have to take a statin
- This would result in 9,400 fewer deaths from heart problems in the UK every year
- But prescribing a statin to everyone aged over 50 would mean 13,700 people would have unwanted side effects and complications who wouldn’t otherwise have had them
- The extra statins would cost about £180 million.
When it came to daily apples:
- 22 million people in the UK would have to eat an apple
- This would prevent 8,500 deaths from heart problems in the UK every year
- Apples would be more expensive than statins, and cost about £260 million.
How reliable is the research?
The researchers assumed that 70 in every 100 people would eat their apple, or take their statin, every day. But surveys show only about 30 in every 100 people eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables every day, so people may need more encouragement to eat their daily apples.
The calculations were also based on the assumption that people who ate apples wouldn’t eat any more calories in total, and that people would eat less of other food to make up for the extra calories from the apples. Also, the researchers didn’t adjust their figures for people who already eat a lot of apples every day.
What does this mean for me?
The researchers say their results back the old saying, and suggest regular apple consumption could stand up to scrutiny against medical treatments. Although this was a light-hearted study, there are likely to be health benefits from eating fruit regularly, as part of a balanced diet.
It’s important to note that the researchers were not looking at the effect of eating apples on people taking statins because they have high cholesterol that could cause heart problems. People who have been prescribed statins should carry on taking them, not switch to eating apples instead.
Source: Best Health