An apple-a-day almost as good as statins for cardiovascular health

appleAn apple-a-day really could keep the doctor away, as the old saying goes, after Oxford University scientists found that eating one apple each day could be comparable to taking a statin in the battle to stave off heart attacks and strokes.

In fact, the scientists behind the new research – based on modelling and not an actual clinical study – claim that if every person over the age of 50 ate just one apple per day, there could be as many as 8,500 heart attack and stroke deaths avoided in the UK each year.

Amazingly, this is almost on par with the figure for if everyone over the age of 50 was prescribed statins, according to the findings published in the British Medical Journal.

This would then result in an additional 17.6 million people on statin medication and a potential 9,400 more deaths avoided each year in the UK. Doctors have previously spoken of their belief that a great number of the population would benefit massively from taking statins, with one American doctor last year arguing that a ‘statins for all’ approach should be considered.

“Statins and apples are both iconic,” lead researcher Dr Adam Briggs, of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University said.

“An apple a day is known throughout the English-speaking world as a saying for health, and statins are now some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. So, when you now have a debate in the medical world about increasing the amount of statins prescribed for primary prevention, we wanted to look at what that would mean for population health and if there were other ways of doing it.”

Those behind the analysis say that theoretically, any fruit should suffice, but getting people to eat more fruit would be a challenging task for anybody. Past population surveys seem to suggest that as many as two-thirds of adults in the UK are simply not getting their 5-a-day portion of fruit and vegetables.

Nine in 10 of us do consume at least one portion a day, according to Dr Briggs, but he says we would all benefit greatly from eating more.

Dr Briggs says: “What we’re trying to say from this analysis is that dietary changes initiated at the population level can have a really meaningful effect on population health,” he said. “And second, so can increasing drug prescriptions. Now, we’re not trying to say that people should be swapping their statins for apples; that’s not where we’re going. However, if they want to add an apple to that as part of disease prevention, then by all means do so, because you’ll be further along in reducing your risk of fatal heart attacks and strokes.”

Interestingly, the cost of statin therapy from the drug alone would only be £180 million and around £260 million for the apples. The authors do say however that the NHS may be able to negotiate a freeze on the cost of apples, “although defrosted apples may not be so palatable,” they state.

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