Health benefits of apples: epidemiological evidence

Asthma and pulmonary function

Apple consumption has been inversely linked with asthma and has also been positively associated with general pulmonary health. In a recent study involving 1600 adults in Australia, apple and pear intake was associated with a decreased risk of asthma and a decrease in bronchial hypersensitivity, but total fruit and vegetable intake was not associated with asthma risk or severity [8]. Specific antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, retinol, and β-carotene, were not associated with asthma or bronchial hypersensitivity. Previously it had been found that apple intake, as well as selenium intake, was associated with less asthma in adults in the United Kingdom [27]. This study surveyed nearly 600 individuals with asthma and 900 individuals without asthma about their diet and lifestyle. Total fruit and vegetable intake was weakly associated with asthma, and apple intake showed a stronger inverse relationship with asthma. This latter effect was most clear in subjects who consumed at least two apples per week. Onion, tea, and red wine consumption were not related to asthma incidence, suggesting an especially beneficial effect of apple flavonoids. Vitamin C and vitamin E were not correlated with asthma incidence, and carotene intake was weakly, but positively, associated with asthma. Apple intake and orange intake were both associated with a reduced incidence of asthma in the Finnish study involving 10, 000 men and women [16]. Flavonoid intake in general was associated with a lower risk of asthma, and the association was attributed mainly to quercetin, hesperitin, and naringenin. Other fruits and vegetables, such as onions, grapefruit, white cabbage, and juices, were not associated with a decreased risk in asthma.

In a study of over 13,000 adults in the Netherlands, it was found that apples might beneficially affect lung function [28]. Apple and pear intake was positively associated with pulmonary function and negatively associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Catechin intake was also associated with pulmonary function and negatively associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but there was no association between tea, the main source of catechins, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [28]. A study of approximately 2500 middle aged (45–59 yrs) Welsh men also demonstrated a beneficial effect of apple consumption on lung function [29]. Lung function was measured as forced expiratory volume (FEV) in one second, and was positively correlated with citrus fruit, fruit juice/squash, and apple consumption. However, the association with citrus fruit and fruit juice/squash lost significance after adjustment for smoking. Apple consumption remained positively correlated with lung function after taking into account possible confounders such as smoking, body mass index, social class, and exercise. Participants who consumed five or more apples per week had a significantly greater FEV of 138 mL when compared to those who did not consume apples [29].


Diabetes and weight loss

Not only may apples help decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, and asthma, but apple consumption may also be associated with a lower risk for diabetes. In the previously discussed Finnish study of 10,000 people, a reduced risk of Type II diabetes was associated with apple consumption [16]. Higher quercetin intake, a major component of apple peels, was also associated with a decreased risk in type II diabetes. Myrectin and berry intake were also associated with a decreased risk in type II diabetes, but onion, orange, grapefruit and white cabbage intake were not associated with a lowered risk.

Apple and pear intake has also been associated with weight loss in middle aged overweight women in Brazil [30]. Approximately 400 hypercholestemic, but nonsmoking, women were randomized to one of three supplement groups: oat cookies, apples or pears, and each subject consumed one of each supplement three times per day for twelve weeks. The participants who consumed either of the fruits had a significant weight loss after 12 weeks of 1.21 kg, whereas those consuming the oat cookies did not have a significant weight loss. Those consuming fruit also had a significantly lower blood glucose level when compared to those consuming the oat cookies [30].


Based on these epidemiological studies, it appears that apples may play a large role in reducing the risk of a wide variety of chronic disease and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in general. Of the papers reviewed, apples were most consistently associated with reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and type II diabetes when compared to other fruits and vegetables and other sources of flavonoids. Apple consumption was also positively associated with increased lung function and increased weight loss. Partially because of such strong epidemiological evidence supporting the health benefits in apples, there is increasing research using animal and in vitro models that attempts to more clearly explain these health benefits.