Prescribing an apple a day to all adults could reduce deaths from heart disease and strokes about as well as cholesterol-lowering statins, research into the Victorian-era health slogan suggests.
In Tuesday's online holiday issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers modelled the effect of prescribing an apple a day or a statin for people over the age of 50 in the U.K.
"With similar reductions in mortality, a 150-year-old health promotion message is able to match modern medicine and is likely to have fewer side-effects," Adam Briggs of the BHF Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University and his co-authors concluded.
They estimated that offering a daily statin to 17.6 million adults not currently taking the drugs would reduce the annual number of vascular deaths from heart disease and stroke by 9,400. In comparison, offering a daily apple to 70 per cent of the U.K. population over age 50 (about 22 million people) would avert 8,500 deaths a year.
But prescribing statins to everyone over the age of 50 could also lead to 1,200 more cases of muscle disease and more than 12,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes.
"No side-effects were modelled for increased apple consumption; aside from the distress caused by a bruised apple, and the theoretical risk of identifying half a worm inside, apple-related adverse events are not widely recognized," they joked.
Modelling studies include many assumptions. In this case, the researchers assumed apples weigh 100 grams and that there would be no other diet changes. Compliance could also change over time for both models, they said.
The researchers also assumed the same treatment effect for all ages, sexes and cardiovascular risk level, which they said could differ in reality.
In 2012, nearly 41 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older said that they consumed fruit and vegetables five or more times per day, according to Statistics Canada. Canada’s Food Guide recommends that people age four and older should eat five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.