Research carried out by The University of Western Australia (UWA) and Edith Cowan University (ECU) has shown the consumption of apples has a direct impact on human health by improving cardiovascular health.
The science behind how apples assist human health was presented at today’s Western Australian Horticulture Update by UWA senior research fellow Michael Considine and adjunct research fellow Catherine Bondonno, a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University.
Dr Considine said the work began about 10 years ago with the aim of trying to validate the health benefits of apples to add value to varieties developed from the Australian National Apple Breeding Program funded by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
“The research has three parts: to identify the traits of a healthy apple, develop tools to accelerate the breeding program, and use the outcome as a marketing and promotion tool for WA apples,” Dr Considine said.
“This is because we knew early on that we had to take a holistic view and could not ignore market and economic realities.
“Apples are consistently among the top three fruits traded worldwide and are therefore an ideal vehicle to promote nutritional health.”
Dr Bondonno said apples were high in flavonoids [widely known as antioxidants], which were concentrated in the skin rather than the flesh of apples.
“Apples are particularly high in the flavonoid quercetin, however consumption of the whole fruit is necessary to obtain the health benefits,” she said.
“A large number of studies have shown that dietary flavonoids provide many benefits for cardiovascular health.
“We have screened the flavonoid content of over 100 apples from the national breeding program based in Western Australia, and identified apples that are high in flavonoids, including Pink LadyTM and BravoTM-branded apples.
“Flavonoids work by increasing a molecule that is produced in blood vessels and play a critical role in cardiovascular health by regulating blood pressure and flow.
“Two clinical trials have demonstrated the positive effect of Pink LadyTM apple consumption on cardiovascular health – one study demonstrated improved blood vessel function within hours of eating apple and the second trial showed these effects are sustained following four weeks of daily intake by people at risk of cardiovascular disease.
“A clinical trial is currently being conducted where volunteers eat a BravoTM-branded apple a day for four weeks, and we measure markers of blood vessel health, such as blood pressure and flow.”
Dr Considine, who is intimately involved with the national breeding program, said the original motivation was to demonstrate that apples are a natural ‘functional food’.
The research has built towards a new international project to deploy genomic breeding techniques and realise a long-held department vision to transform the Australian National Apple Breeding Program strategy.
“Using genomic data will enable us to really sharpen the breeding strategy to accelerate the selection of high value apples,” Dr Considine said.
“Initially this will target flavonoid content as a ‘pilot’ but progressively the strategy is to develop an economic index of valuable traits, such as crispness, colour and shelf life, as well as fibre and pectin content, which have other health benefits.
“This will enable a sustainable pipeline of high-value apple varieties within the medium term.”
Research supporting the presentation has been funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia, the department, UWA, ECU, Pomewest and Fruit West.
The Western Australian Horticulture Update is an annual event hosted by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, targeted primarily at growers and agribusiness.
Media contact: Jodie Thomson/Dionne Tindale, media liaison +61 (0)8 9368 3937