An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

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Guest Author, Katie Arnolds

The Museum’s Health Sciences Department is partnering with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to publish a monthly series on the Museum blog called “Know Health”. The articles focus on current health topics selected by CU’s medical and graduate students in order to provide both English and Spanish speaking communities with current, accurate information. The posts in the “Know Health” series are edited versions of articles that first appeared in Contrapoder magazine. Thank you to the students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for bringing these stories to life.

(aka Dr. Nicole Garneau, chair and curator, Health Sciences Department)


Guest Author, Katie Arnolds, is a student in the PhD program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

(en Español)

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We all know the many health benefits attributed to apples, they are high in fiber and low in calories, they are rich in cancer fighting antioxidants, and provide immune boosting vitamin c, but can they also fight obesity?

Obesity is a global epidemic. According to the WHO there are 1 billion people who are overweight and 300 million who are officially obese worldwide. Obesity is linked with many severe diseases and chronic issues, such as Type II diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, and many cancers. Guatemala was recently included as one of the top ten most obese countries in the world, with approximately than 1 in 4 people over the age 15 being classified as obese, and with rates of childhood obesity rapidly climbing. Globally, nearly two trillion dollars a year are spent combating the personal and social impacts of obesity.

A recent study published in PLOS One, a leading medical journal, suggests that apples can fight obesity. Apple peels contain a compound, ursolic acid, which in mice helps build muscle mass and brown fat. Think about that! Apple peel might be able to help you grow muscle! Both  muscle and brown fat are known for their fat-burning abilities and therefore may protect against obesity.

We all know exercise is good for us, and one of the reasons is because it increases muscle mass and helps burn more calories. In fact, muscle is responsible for most of the body’s energy consumption. Even when your body is at rest, muscle burns nearly three times the calories that other tissues can burn! Unsurprisingly, people with more muscle are less likely to become overweight or obese and suffer from health issues. In this study, normal mice and obese mice that were fed ursolic acid had increased muscle mass, increased strength, and an increased ability to exercise.

The mice who ate ursolic acid also had more brown fat, despite its unfortunate name, brown fat is actually more closely related to muscle than to white fat, the fat associated with being overweight. High levels of brown fat are generally only seen in newborn mammals, it is believed to provide heat for infant animals. It was once thought that all brown fat was lost in humans in childhood; however researchers have now found that adults retain some brown fat, and that it burns a lot of calories very quickly.

Researchers are still studying how ursolic acid treatment would work in humans and if it would be safe, but the results in mice are very exciting. In the meantime, you can get ursolic acid just by including apples in a healthy diet. Maybe an apple day really does keep the doctor away! 

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