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An apple a day keeps the doctor away – more so than pills

If all people over 50 in the UK would eat an apple a day, over 8,500 vascular deaths such as heart attacks and strokes every year in the UK would be prevented. This is even better than giving everyone (who is not already taking them) statins – a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol levels.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Credit: © Photographee.eu / Fotolia

An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is able to match more widespread use of modern medicine, and certainly has fewer negative side effects. The researchers initially showed that lifestyle changes are the recommended first step to prevent heart disease, but statins can also reduce the risk of any vascular diseases, irrespective of a person’s underlying risk. They recommended statins for virtually all people 50+.

The, using mathematical models, the team of researchers from Oxford set out to test how the age-old proverb which suggests eating an apple a day fares against the modern drugs. They looked at the common causes of vascular mortality and analyzed what the effects would be of prescribing statins to everybody, compared to eating an apple. They found that in people over 50, apples are just as, if not more effective.

“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.

According to their calculations, offering a daily statin to 17.6 million more adults would reduce the annual number of vascular deaths by 9,400. Offering an daily apple to people over 50 would avoid 8,500 vascular deaths – but the side effects from the statins would cause at least a thousand extra cases of muscle disease (myopathy) and over ten thousand extra diagnoses of diabetes – which means that overall, when taking into consideration all the factors and potential side effects, for this age group, apples are simply better than modern drugs.

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.