Compounds Keep Disease Away
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - An apple a day may indeed keep the
doctor away, new findings from Finland suggest.
In a study of more than 10,000 men and women, individuals who
consumed more of plant compounds called flavonoids--especially
one type that is most abundant in apples--were less likely to
die from heart disease or develop a variety of chronic diseases,
including lung cancer, asthma, stroke and diabetes.
"The message of our study is that individuals consuming fruits
and vegetables rich in different flavonoids have a reduced risk
of overall mortality and of several chronic diseases," Dr. Paul
Knekt of the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki told
Compared to other fruits and vegetables, apples "showed the
strongest and most consistent effects," Knekt said. He added,
"This study underlines the suggestion that a healthy diet should
include plenty of fruits and vegetables," including apples.
Flavonoids, which are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables
as well as in tea and red wine, are thought to boost health in
part by combating oxidation, a process in which cell-damaging
substances called free radicals accumulate. Oxidative damage can
be caused by outside factors, such as cigarette smoking, or by
factors on the cellular level. Oxidation is suspected of increasing
the risk of heart disease, stroke and several other diseases.
Some studies have shown that the risk of cardiovascular disease
and cancer decline as consumption of flavonoids rises, but other
studies have failed to show a protective effect of the plant compounds.
In the current study, participants filled out a questionnaire
and completed an interview to find out what they had eaten during
the previous year. Based on average flavonoid contents of foods
available in Finland, the researchers estimated each person's
flavonoid intake. Through national prescription and disease registries,
the researchers tracked the development of disease in the participants
for up to 28 years after the initial interview.
The results of the study suggest that the risk of several chronic
diseases--including heart disease, stroke, lung and prostate cancer,
type 2 diabetes and asthma--drops as the consumption of flavonoids
rises, Knekt and his colleagues conclude in a report in the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Most of the benefits seemed to
stem from quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that is plentiful
in apples, although several other flavonoids seemed to be protective
For instance, greater consumption of apples, which are the main
source of quercetin in Finland, and onions, which contain a flavonoid
called kaempferol, were both linked to a reduced risk of dying
from heart disease.
Likewise, the risk of stroke was 30% lower in people who ate
the most kaempferol than in those who ate the least. And in men,
higher levels of quercetin were linked to lower risks of lung
cancer and prostate cancer. Eating lots of foods rich in quercetin
also seemed to provide some protection against type 2 diabetes,
although the risk reduction was small enough that it could have
resulted from chance.
Although the researchers suspect that the antioxidant properties
of flavonoids account for some of the benefits of the compounds,
they call for additional research in other groups of people who
consume different varieties of flavonoid-rich foods. They suggest
that such studies, which should take into account factors that
might influence the connection between flavonoids and good health--such
as lifestyle--may help draw conclusions about the antioxidant
SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002;76:560-568.
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