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UC Davis News  


April 12, 1999

Significant amount of phytonutrients may help protect against heart disease.

(Sacramento, Calif.) - Researchers at UC Davis Medical Center this week announced results of an in vitro study that found antioxidants in apple juice help reduce levels of bad cholesterol and may protect against heart disease. The discovery is reported in the April 16 issue of Life Sciences.

Apples, long considered part of a healthy diet, contain phenols or chemical compounds in their juice that are also found in other fruits and vegetables. Those phenolic compounds have been shown to act as antioxidants that help protect the body from injury, including the injuries of eating fat in your diet. The antioxidants work by preventing the oxidation of low density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, and have the potential to guard the body against chronic heart disease, the leading cause of death in this country.

Researchers tested six commercial apple juices, and the peel, flesh and whole fruit of Red Delicious apples for various phenolic compounds. Only juices containing 100 percent apple juice and no sugar were included in the study. The juices and fresh apple extracts varied in the amount of phenolic concentrations, but all inhibited LDL oxidation. While further research is needed to determine which juice components and extracts specifically contribute to the antioxidant activity, the study shows that 100 percent apple juice is a nutritious addition to any healthy well-balanced diet.

Previous in vitro studies have indicated that several beverages including wine, tea and grape juice have antioxidant components that may help reduce levels of LDL. Now apple juice has been added to this list. It remains unclear if and to what degree these phytochemicals, or plant-derived compounds, are absorbed in the body in a metabolically active form, but researchers agree that fruits and vegetables containing these beneficial compounds contribute to healthy diets.

"While most people don't start paying attention to heart disease until they are older, good nutrition is important at any age," says co-author Eric Gershwin, chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center. "In addition to improving health, good nutrition helps young kids stay awake, do homework, and have enough energy to exercise. All of these come from eating sound diets including fruits and vegetables."

Dianne Hyson, a dietitian at UC Davis Medical Center, emphasizes that this study is another reason for instilling a heart-healthy lifestyle in young children as they are establishing habits that can make a big difference in their health later.

"Children tend to like apple juice, and this new information indicates there are more health benefits to drinking it than we thought previously," she says. "Past studies have focused on identifying antioxidants in other foods. These new findings give us even more reason to emphasize apple juice as a fruit serving."

As we age, our bodies produce harmful materials in our cells known as oxidants; they affect arteries, skin and other organs in the body. Gershwin compares these oxidants to sparks that age cells and cause damage. Antioxidants, such as those found in apple juice, are able to prevent those sparks from hurting the body.

"We found the amount and activity of antioxidants in apple juice to be significant," Gershwin says. "In fact, if you went out and ordered a hamburger, drinking apple juice or other phytonutrient-rich beverage would help to protect your body against the fats in that burger."

A wide range of chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer result from oxidation events; for example, the oxidation of LDL leads to atherosclerosis.

"This study showed that we can actually reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol," Hyson says. "So that has a significant impact on potentially reducing the risk of that disease."

(more news)

Can I just eat apples? Read the frequently asked questions here
Are apple polyphenol extracts safe? Read the toxicity study here


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