An Apple a Day May Keep Stroke Away

From the WebMD Archives

May 30, 2000 -- Mom was right yet again: Eat your fruits and veggies to stay healthy. A study from Finland of a large population found that, indeed, those who ate apples had a decreased risk of stroke.

Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, substances that reduce the amount of naturally occurring damage in the body -- damage that can lead to everything from wrinkles to cancer. Specific antioxidants called flavonoids, found in fruits and vegetables as well as tea and even chocolate, appear to help guard against diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

The study, which looked at more than 9,000 men and women over a 28-year period, set out to establish whether one ingredient, quercetin, found mainly in apples, onions, and berries, could be associated with a decreased risk of blood clotting -- a cause of stroke. The results of the study, reported in the May issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, indicate that apples, but not quercetin itself, may keep strokes at bay.

"In addition to quercetin, ... apples also include catechin and other compounds that may explain the association," the researchers report. "The suggestive protective effect of apple intake may thus be due to some other substances in the fruit or simply to a lifestyle associated with apple intake."

Eating fruits and vegetables as recommended by both the National Cancer Institute and the American Heart Association has long been known to be a healthy practice, Ishwarlal Jialal, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "If people can eat five servings of fruits and vegetables, they're doing a great job," he says. "Tea, onions, apples, foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, ... are still healthy; this is what the study is showing." Jialal is a professor of internal medicine and pathology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and was not involved in the study.

Jialal cautions that studies designed like this one can be misleading, and points to recent data that indicated beta-carotene might protect against lung cancer. "And then when they supplemented [beta-carotene] in smokers and asbestos workers, we got more incidence [of cancer]," he says. "So I'm very, very skeptical. It's a nice hypothesis."

Vital Information:

  • Flavonoids are antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, and some other foods that may protect against heart disease and stroke.
  • New research shows that people who eat more apples have decreased blood clotting, which is a cause of stroke.
  • Apples, onions, and berries each contain a large amount of the flavonoid known as quercetin, but researchers were unable to say that this exact component was responsible for the effect on blood clotting.
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