A new study shows that an apple a day may keep the doctor away by preventing thousands of heart attacks and strokes in British adults over 50 years old.
The fruit may even prevent more cardiovascular deaths than commonly prescribed statin medications, according to the findings.
“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 U.K.,” the authors wrote.
Statins lower cholesterol by blocking an enzyme that produces cholesterol in the liver. The researchers said that 5.2 million people in the U.K., where the study took place, currently take statins. Recently, American doctors updated their statin treatment guidelines, which some say may lead to more people in the U.S. taking the drugs.
Researchers wanted to see if the apple maxim was true, so they created a mathematical model to look at the highest causes of vascular death — heart attacks and strokes — for adults over 50 in the U.K. population.
Using their data, they hypothesized how much the death rate would decrease if doctors prescribed a statin a day as a preventative measure to those already not taking one, versus if they insisted that their patients ate one apple daily. The researchers took into account that only 70 percent of the people would listen to their doctors’ advice, and they probably wouldn’t change any other aspect of their caloric intake.
They estimated that an additional 17.6 million people over 50 in the country would be prescribed a statin. At the 70 percent compliance rate, an additional 9,400 deaths would be avoided.
But if 70 percent of the U.K. population started eating an apple a day — about 22 million people — 8,500 vascular deaths would be prevented. Because side effects from statins could lead to thousands cases of muscular disease or myopathy, and more than 12,000 cases of diabetes, the tart fruit may be the better option.
If everyone over 30 was given either an apple or a statin a day, vascular death rates would drop 3 percent. At the same time however, side effects would be expected to double.
“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,’” study author Dr. Adam Brigs from the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University in Oxfordshire, England, said in a press release. “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. While no-one currently prescribed statins should replace them for apples, we could all benefit from simply eating more fruit.”