Scientists’ say prescribing an apple a day to people aged 50 and over would prevent 8,500 heart attacks yearly in the UK. Image Credit: Agency

London: An apple a day could stop you having a heart attack — and may even be as effective as taking a statin.

Healthy over-50s who add a daily apple to their diet can benefit as much as those who start taking a tablet, Oxford University researchers claim.

Their study goes some way to proving the proverb coined by the Victorians, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

The scientists’ calculations suggest that prescribing an apple a day to everyone aged 50 and over would prevent or delay around 8,500 heart attacks and strokes a year in the UK.

The health benefits are similar to giving statins to everyone over 50 who is not already taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Dr Adam Briggs, of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University, said, “The Victorians had it about right when they came up with ‘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.”

He added, “While no one currently prescribed statins should replace them with apples, we could all benefit from simply eating more fruit.”

In the study, published in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal, researchers used mathematical models to assess the impact of prescribing a daily apple for all older adults.

They assumed almost three-quarters would eat their apple a day and that overall calorie intake stayed constant. They estimate 5.2million people are now eligible for statins in the UK, and if it became policy to prescribe statins to all over-50s as some doctors want, a further 17.6million would be offered them.

But this would also lead to a spate of side effects, including 1,000 extra cases of muscle disease, and more than 10,000 extra diagnoses of diabetes.

The researchers calculate that offering a daily statin to 17.6million more adults would reduce annual vascular deaths by 9,400. However, offering a daily apple to 70 per cent of Britons aged over 50 — 22million people — would avert 8,500 vascular deaths.

The scientists calculated that anyone eating one portion of fruit and vegetables, such as an apple, a day benefits from a 12 per cent reduction in their risk of heart attack and stroke.

And this protection from one portion is roughly equivalent — in a person at low or moderate risk of heart problems — to the reduction in vascular death from taking a statin.

The calculations suggest anyone already eating an apple a day would gain an additional 12 per cent protection from a second apple.

The more portions of fruit and vegetables you eat, the greater protection against deaths from these causes. Latest official figures show only one in three achieve the target of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Dr Peter Coleman of The Stroke Association said, “While it is vital those who have been prescribed the cholesterol lowering-drugs statins continue to take this highly effective medication, everyone can lower their risk of stroke with simple lifestyle changes, such as a balanced diet.”

Cancer death rates in the UK have dropped by more than a fifth since the 1990s, according to the latest figures.

In 1990, the disease killed 220 out of every 100,000 people. By 2011, this figure had fallen by 22 per cent to 170 per 100,000, said charity Cancer Research UK.

Improvements in prevention, surgical techniques, radiotherapy and drug treatments were all said to have played a part. The fall in death rates is despite rising numbers of cancer cases being diagnosed, largely because cancer is more common in an ageing population.

Chief executive Harpal Kumar said, “Today cancer is not the death sentence people once believed it to be. But while we’re heading in the right direction, too many lives are still being lost, highlighting how much more there is to do.”