Health benefits and apples: animal and in vitro studies

Cholesterol-lowering effects

Some of the apple's protective effect against cardiovascular disease may come from its potential cholesterol-lowering ability. Aprikian et al. (2001) found that when cholesterol fed rats were supplemented with lyophilized apples, there was a significant drop in plasma cholesterol and liver cholesterols and an increase in high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Furthermore, they found that cholesterol excretion increased in the feces of rats fed apples, suggesting reduced cholesterol absorption [40]. In a second study, a similar cholesterol lowering effect was seen in cholesterol fed rats when rats were fed apples, pears, and peaches. Apples had a greater cholesterol lowering affect than the other two fruits [41]. The three fruits also increased the plasma antioxidant potential, with apple having the greatest effect [41]. Apples, pears, and peaches all had similar fiber content, but apples contained more phenolic compounds suggesting that perhaps the phenolics in apples contribute to this effect [41].In obese Zucker rats, apple consumption lowered cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), however in lean rats, apple consumption did not change cholesterol levels [42]. In rats supplemented with cholesterol, apple pomace fiber and sugar beet fiber, the plasma lipids were significantly lower than in rats without the dietary fiber [43]. Rats fed sugar beet pulp fiber and apple pomace fiber, but not fed cholesterol, had no change in lipids, suggesting that these sources of dietary fiber have hypolipidemic effects only in rats fed cholesterol [43]. The sugar beet pulp fiber and the apple pomace fiber did not have an effect of lipid peroxides.Aprikian et al. [44] in more recent studies, found that combined apple pectin and apple phenolic fractions lowered plasma and liver cholesterol, triglycerides, and apparent cholesterol absorption to a much greater extent than either apple pectin alone or apple phenolics alone [44]. This work suggests that there is a beneficial interaction between fruit fiber and polyphenolic components and also supports the benefits of eating whole fruits as opposed to dietary supplements.

Other health effects

Aside from chronic disease, apples may be used to help combat other prevalent disease in the world. Recently it has been found that crude extracts from immature apples actually inhibited enzymatic activities of cholera toxin in a dose dependent manner [45]. Additionally, apple extract reduced cholera toxin induced fluid accumulation in a dose dependent manner [45]. The apple extracts were fractionated and each fraction was tested for inhibitory action on enzymatic activities of cholera toxin. The two apple extract fractions that contained highly polymerized catechins inhibited cholera toxin catalyzed ADP-ribosylation by 95% and 98%. The fraction containing non-catechin polyphenols caused only 3.5% inhibition and the fraction containing monomeric, dimeric, and trimeric catechins caused 39% inhibition [45].


Overall, the animal studies and in vitro work begin to define mechanisms by which apples may help prevent chronic disease. First, the strong antioxidant activity of apples may help prevent lipid and DNA oxidation. Cancer cell culture work has demonstrated that apples inhibit cell proliferation in vitro, which may contribute to the association of apple intake with decreased cancer risk. Apples significantly lowered lipid oxidation both in humans and rats and lowered cholesterol in humans. These effects, which may be attributed to both the phenolics and the dietary fiber found in apples, may partially explain the inverse association of apple intake and risk of cardiovascular disease.