An Apple a Day Keeps Heart Problems Away

Daily apple estimated to reduce heart related deaths at same rate as statins

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? A new study suggests that simple dietary changes may be effective in preventing death from heart disease.

A team of researchers investigated the potential saved lives that could result from an apple-a-day versus a statin-a-day treatment for all people older than 50 years old. Statins are medications that lower cholesterol to prevent heart disease.

Using data on heart health, statins and nutrition, these researchers found that both types of treatment would result in similar improvements for heart health. However, prescribing statins would likely result in additional side effects like diabetes.

The researchers concluded that a more nutritious diet and use of statins for prevention of heart disease could reduce heart-related deaths.

"Eat a nutritious diet to maintain a healthy heart."

Adam Briggs, an academic clinical fellow at the BHF Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University, led this theoretical study on apples, statins and heart health.

Statins are a class of medications that lower cholesterol levels in order to prevent heart disease. They are frequently prescribed to people who have high cholesterol or are otherwise at risk of developing heart disease.

According to the authors of this study, some researchers and medical professionals have called for statins to be prescribed to all people over 50 years old.

The researchers examined whether a simple dietary change could produce the same effect as a prescription drug for preventing heart complications among older adults who are not at a serious risk for developing heart disease.

Using data from the Health Survey for England and the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists, this study tested the "apple a day" public health message against a "statin a day" method for preventing heart disease using a data experiment.

The Cholesterol Treatment Trialists showed that statins reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 12 percent.

Using this figure and the Health Survey for England, these researchers determined how many people in England would be protected from a heart disease-related death if every person over 50 years old were prescribed statins.

To calculate the benefits of eating an apple a day, the researchers used a risk assessment model based on nutritional information and deaths from disease.

The authors of the study also modeled the side effects of taking statins.

The researchers found that offering statins to all English adults over 50 years old would reduce the number of heart disease-related deaths by 9,400, assuming 70 percent of those adults stuck to a statin regimen.

If every English adult over 50 ate an apple a day with the same rate of compliance, about 8,500 heart-related deaths would be delayed or avoided.

Additionally, these researchers estimated that statin use would lead to numerous side effects, including 1,200 extra cases of myopathy (muscle disease), 200 cases of rhabdomyolosis (breakdown of muscles) and 12,300 diagnoses of diabetes.

The authors of this study concluded that an "apple a day" prescription would likely be as effective as a statin a day for people who do not already take statins.

They suggested that use of statins for prevention of heart disease paired with an improvement in the nutritional quality of patients' diets would significantly improve survival from heart disease.

Additionally, the authors noted that both a nutritional diet approach and a statins approach could reduce heart disease related death.

The researchers acknowledged that their study had limits. For example, the rate of compliance for both statins and apples was difficult to estimate, and the definitions of death from heart problems differed between two of the data sources used.

This study was published in BMJ on December 17.

The researchers did not seek funding for the study. One of the authors has received a research grant from the British Heart Foundation.

Review Date: 
December 16, 2013
Last Updated:
December 18, 2013