Apples are highly nutritious and are rich in a variety of flavonoids, antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. The health benefits of apples may be attributed to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Different observational studies have found that including fiber-rich apples as part of the diet/nutrition may help reduce the risk of cancers such as colorectal cancer, lung cancer and ER -ve breast cancer. However, drinking clear apple juice may not have the same impact/health benefits.
Apples and the Key Active Ingredients
Apples are one of the most popular fruits consumed across the world. Apples are rich in a variety of flavonoids, antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, and a wide range of other nutrients. Including fibrous foods like apples as part of the diet/nutrition is healthy. Apple peels are also exceptionally high in antioxidants and have great nutritional value. Some of the key bioactive compounds present in apples are :
- Caffeic acid
- Chlorogenic acid
- Maslinic acid
- Modified Citrus Pectin
- Vitamin C
General Health Benefits of Apples
The many healthy components of apples make them highly nutritious with several health benefits. Some of the health benefits of apples include:
Weight Loss : A high content of fiber and water in apples make them filling and helps in weight loss.
Type 2 diabetes: The antioxidant properties of the flavonoids present in apples help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Cholesterol and Cardiovascular health : Eating raw apples may help reduce the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular health. Dietary fiber, Vitamin C and Potassium help in supporting cardiovascular health.
Brain health : Apples may help boost brain health and prevent dementia.
Asthma/Lung Health : Antioxidant-rich apples may help protect the lungs, reduce inflammation and improve lung health
Bone Health : Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of apples may help improve the bone density and strength.
Benefits of Apple in Cancer Prevention
This is how the famous saying goes.”An apple a day keeps the doctor away..”
However, is it right to say that ”An apple a day keeps the Cancer away..” ?
Let us have a quick glance at some of the observational studies that evaluated the association between apple consumption and the risk of different cancer types.
Apple Intake may have Benefits of Reducing Colorectal Cancer Risk
- In a population-based, case-control study called the Western Australian Bowel Health Study, conducted between June 2005 and August 2007 by the researchers from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research in Australia, they evaluated whether the association between fruits and vegetable consumption and risk of colorectal cancers differed by subsite of the bowel (proximal colon, distal colon, and rectum). The study included a total of 834 colorectal cancer cases and 939 controls. The study found that the intakes of dark yellow vegetables and apples were associated with a 39% and 49% reduced risk of distal colon cancer risk. (Neeltje Annema et al, J Am Diet Assoc., 2011)
- In another hospital-based case-control study done by the researchers from the Jagiellonian University Medical College in Poland, a country with dietary habits very different from those of the Mediterranean region, they evaluated the potential of apples to protect against developing colorectal cancer. The study found that the risk of colorectal cancer was significantly reduced with the daily intake of apples. They highlighted that compared to those who did not consume apples, there was a 63% reduced risk of colorectal cancer in those who had one or more apple servings daily. (Wieslaw Jedrychowski and Umberto Maugeri, Rev Environ Health., Jan-Mar 2009)
Findings from these studies suggest that including apples as part of the diet/nutrition may provide health benefits associated with colorectal cancer prevention.
Apple Intake may have Benefits of Reducing Lung Cancer Risk
Researchers from the University of Perugia in Italy evaluated the association between apple intake and the risk of different types of cancers based on data from 23 case-control and 21 cohort/population-based study obtained through literature search in PubMed, Web of Science and Embase databases. The study found that compared to those who did not consume or rarely consumed apples, people with highest apple intake in both case-control and cohort studies were associated with a 25% and 11% reduced risk of lung cancers respectively. (Roberto Fabiani et al, Public Health Nutr., 2016)
Researchers also found that those who consumed at least one apple a day were much less likely to get bowel, mouth, digestive tract or breast cancers compared to those who rarely or never ate apples. However, these findings were true only for the case-control studies but not for the cohort studies. Hence more well defined studies are needed to establish these findings.
Findings from these studies suggest that including apples as part of the diet/nutrition may provide health benefits associated with lung cancer prevention.
Apple Intake may have Benefits of Reducing Breast Cancer Risk
In a study published by Maryam S Farvid from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, US and the coauthors, they evaluated the association between fruit and vegetable intake during adolescence and early adulthood and the risk of breast cancer. The study included data from 90476 premenopausal women participants aged between 27-44 from the Nurses’ Health Study II who provided dietary information in 1991 as well as 44223 of those women who provided dietary information during adolescence in 1998. The study found that a high consumption of apple, banana, and grapes during adolescence, and oranges and kale during early adulthood was significantly associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, especially the Estrogen Receptor (ER) -ve breast cancers. (Maryam S Farvid et al, BMJ., 2016)
Another recent analysis of data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study involving 272,098 women also highlighted the protective effect of fiber rich apples against ER -ve breast cancer. (Alicia K Heath et al, Breast Cancer Res., 2020)
Findings from these studies suggest that including apples as part of the diet/nutrition may provide health benefits associated with ER -ve breast cancer prevention.
Apples are highly nutritious with several health benefits due to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties. Different observational studies have found that fiber rich apple intake may help reduce the risk of cancers such as colorectal cancer, lung cancer and ER -ve breast cancers. However, apple juice does not contain fiber and may even contain added sugar. Hence, drinking clear apple juice may not have the same health benefits.
In short, ‘An apple a day may probably keep certain cancers at bay’.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.