Updated 22 September 2016

An apple a day keeps high cholesterol at bay

Women who ate dried apple every day for a year saw a persistent decrease in their cholesterol levels, according to a new study.


Women who eat dried apple every day for a year see a persistent decrease in their cholesterol levels, according to a new study. In comparison, women who ate prunes daily maintained steady levels over a year, suggesting that the fruit could keep cholesterol numbers from rising.

"Both apples and dried plum are pretty powerful in keeping the cholesterol at bay," said Dr Bahram Arjmandi, the lead author of the study and the chair of the department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University.

While eating fruit seems beneficial, the study could not say whether women's cholesterol would have been any different if they hadn't added the prunes or apples to their diets, because it did not include women who didn't eat one of the fruits.

How the study was done

Dr Arjmandi said there have been earlier studies looking at the health effects of apples, but not a clear experiment in humans on whether eating them can alter risk factors for heart disease.

"As much as there is a feeling that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, there has not been much study done," he said.

Dr Arjmandi and his colleagues asked 45 women to eat about 75 grams (roughly two apples' worth) of dried apple each day for a year. In comparison, 55 women ate 100 grams of prunes daily for a year, according to the study, published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

At the beginning of the study and after three, six and 12 months, the women gave a blood sample to measure cholesterol.

All of the women had gone through menopause, a factor that is normally tied to a rise in cholesterol levels, Dr Arjmandi said. And average levels started below 200 milligrammes per decilitre of blood.

What the study showed

After three months, those who ate prunes saw no difference in their cholesterol levels, and those levels remained steady at the 12 month mark.

Among those who ate dried apple, total cholesterol dropped by 9% and LDL cholesterol also dropped by 16%.

After six months, the apple-eaters saw their total cholesterol drop even further, to 13% less than what it was at the beginning of the study, and LDL cholesterol dropped by 24%.

At 12 months out, the cholesterol levels remained lowered.

"The extent to which especially apples reduced bad cholesterol, it went beyond my own imagination. So powerful," Dr Arjmandi said.

Still, the study did not look at whether such reductions had an impact on the long-term health of the women. Subjects stayed essentially the same weight throughout the 12 months.

No different reductions

Dr Arjmandi and his colleagues point out that statins cost billions of dollars every year in the U.S. and have side effects. Fruit, on the other hand, is part of a healthy diet, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture encourages people to eat fruits and vegetables.

It is unclear how the women's cholesterol would have changed if they hadn't eaten the fruit, because "there was no control group," said Dr Frank Sacks, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Additionally, while the group of women who ate apples saw LDL cholesterol reductions over time, those reductions resulted in levels that ended up being no different than those of the women who ate prunes.

(Reuters Health, August 2012)

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