Can an Apple a Day Keep Colon Cancer Away?

Adages and mention of the apple go back to biblical times. However, is there really any scientific evidence to support the "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" adage? Conflicting evidence might make your head spin while wondering just what are you supposed to eat to reduce your risk of colon cancer. Overall, the research is probably even more divided than you would imagine.

How Apples Hit the Spotlight

As the biblical fruit of temptation and later acclaimed as a fruit of folklore to keep you healthy, wealthy and wise, apples have long been a topic of speculation for their health benefits.

The facts, as we know them, include that apples are a low sodium, high fiber fruit bursting with flavonoids, fiber, and vitamin C.

Back in 1971, before the word flavonoid was common, studies showed a definite inverse link between the consumption of dietary fiber and colon cancer. At that time, it was promulgated that colon cancer was primarily a disease of older caucasian men, who were able to live on a diet filled with red meats and very little fiber intake. However, since that time, we have learned more about the genetics behind colorectal cancer. Although we know that red meats and high fat foods have an impact on colon cancer risk, we are still not sure exactly how much your risk is raised on a carnivorous, high fat diet. 

Why are the Studies So Conflicting?

Our scientific advances over the last few decades leave the intelligent person to ask -- why is it so hard to definitively link dietary changes with cancer risk?

Studies as far back as 1975 already started to show a difference in cancer instance by country -- some cancers were more prominent by geographical location. We have been studying the food - cancer link for over 30 years without definitive proof to correlate healthy foods to a much decreased cancer risk.

We have linked obesity, physical activity, and other healthy lifestyle changes to reduced risk, but we still cannot pinpoint which fruit or vegetable specifically reduces cancer risk and why.

The answer is simple: We are human. Ask me what I had yesterday for dinner and I may or may not remember all of the details. I can share that I had a broiled pork chop with a sweet potato and salad, but might not remember to report the fact that I used butter (the real whole fat stuff) on my sweet potato and had ranch dressing on my salad.

Although it may sound insignificant, these alterations could throw off an entire study. If someone is asked, "How many apples a day do you eat," and the answer is one, the research might not have the capability or extent to take into consideration that the one apple consumed and reported by the research subject was also fried and eaten in a cobbler.

The words "free radicals" became popularized after studies in 1991 and 1997 showed us that fruits and vegetables could help your body remove the decaying and dead cellular debris.

We also learned that the flavonoids in fruits and vegetables -- the pigments of the plant that work as antioxidants within our body -- had a host of health benefits that we had yet to explore.

Apple Proponents

The organizations that still show a favor for the reduced risk of cancer with apple consumption promulgate that the apples' healing properties are most rewarded when eating the entire fruit. The peel and the tender meat of the apple contain different types of fiber and flavonoids -- so eating a peeled apple in a pie provides a different health benefit than chomping down a raw one.

Apples contain many different flavonoids, some of which we are still exploring the benefits of in human health. For example, we know that 80 percent of the Quercetin is found in the uncooked peel of the apple. Other apple flavonoids include:

  • anthocyanins (red apples)
  • epicatechin
  • triterpenoids

The fiber content of the apple is also promoted as a healthy addition to your diet. Studies show that the good bacteria in your colon can actually use the fiber to create protective compounds. 

Whether or not you buy into the apple hype, one fact remains true. We know that a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, low fat proteins and whole grains can you manage your weight and reduce your risk of chronic disease. 


American Institute for Cancer Research. (October 2014). Updates on Foods That Fight Cancer. Cancer Research Update. Accessed online September 25, 2015.

Key, T.J. (January 2011). Fruit and Vegetables and Cancer Risk. British Journal of Cancer. 104(1); 6-11. Accessed online September 26, 2015.

Continue Reading