Apple a day may keep cardiologists away

Nutrition scientists think apples might replace some drugs as a way of limiting heart disease.

Researchers at Florida State University have an all-natural alternative to statins and other cholesterol lowering drugs: apples. And owing to their natural anti-inflammatory agents, these popular fruits might one day even take the place of baby aspirins for the senior set.

Apple a day may keep cardiologist at bay
Peggy Greb / USDA-ARS

Bahram Arjmandi’s group at FSU is targeting apples at postmenopausal women, for whom cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death. Each year, heart disease kills some 460,000 U.S. women, his team notes. And although there are drugs available to manage cardiovascular disease, they not only can exhibit dangerous side effects, such as liver damage and muscle weakness, but also prove costly. Far more costly than your local Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, or Gala apple.

These fruits are a rich source of many antioxidants, such as quercetin and catechins. Which is good, because oxidation is believed to play a pivotal role in the development of artery-clogging plaque. Some natural micronutrients in apples even fight inflammation, which underlies a lot of heart disease.

So to test the idea that women might actually reap measureable benefits from apple therapy, Arjmandi’s team — led by Sheau Ching Chai — recruited 110 healthy postmenopausal women for a year-long trial. Half were randomly assigned to receive 75 grams of dried apple each day, the rest to get a “control” treatment of dried plums (what used to be known as prunes until they got a public relations makeover).

At the Experimental Biology meeting in New Orleans, this week, the FSU researchers presented preliminary data from the first three months of the face-off between apples and prunes. And the apples currently appear headed for victory.

For instance, C-reactive protein, a natural product of the liver and adipose tissue, is a reliable marker of inflamed fat cells. As such, elevations in this CRP is considered a major risk factor for heart disease. Women entered the Tallahassee trial with concentrations of around 1.75 milligrams of CRP per deciliter of blood. Three months later, concentrations in those who had been eating dried apple daily were just 0.75 mg/dl  — just half the level measured in the women getting prunes.

Fatty constituents in the blood also responded to apple therapy. For instance, serum triglycerides in the apple eaters fell about 10 percent during the first quarter of the trial; they remained unchanged in the prune group. Serum cholesterol also remained unchanged in the prune eaters, while falling 4 percent in the apple group.

Now, if they only had such a fruity therapy for my migraines.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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