An apple a day and a glass of green tea may be the new mantra to keep the doctor away, according to new findings. Scientists from the Institute of Food Research (IFR) have found how certain naturally occurring foods can help protect our health from developing chronic conditions, such as heart disease and cancer. The study, which was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, outlines the specific benefits found in green tea and apples.

Dietary studies reinforce nutritionists’ and doctors’ advice to eat copious amounts of fruits and vegetables to stay healthy because of the benefits found from polyphenol compounds. The research team, led by Dr. Paul Kroon from IFR, found when apples and green tea work together, the unique amount of polyphenols they produce blocks a signaling molecule called VEGF. In the body, VEGF causes blood vessels to form in a process known as angiogenesis, which advances cancer. Angiogenesis also has its hand in causing atherosclerotic plaques and plaque ruptures that eventually lead to heart attacks and stroke.

For the study, researchers used human blood vessels to test the effect and found when they used low dosages of polyphenols from green tea and apples, it completely stopped VEGF from turning on.  It’s the first time researchers have been able to directly turn off VEGF using polyphenol-rich foods. 

Previous studies have found green tea polyphenols have the power to kill cancerous cells and stop them from growing because polyphenols are a potent and natural antioxidant. When a person ages or cells are attacked by cancer, it’s because they’ve undergone oxidation and lost an electron. The loss makes them unstable free radicals that are dangerous when they accumulate enough to cause damage to other cells. Antioxidants donate an electron to the cells that need one, which stabilizes them back to health and gives them a fighting chance against cancer.

An unexpected bonus benefit from the study was discovered when they witnessed polyphenols turn on an enzyme that creates nitric oxide in the blood, which is responsible for widening and preventing blood vessel damage.

"If this effect happens in the body as well, it provides very strong evidence for a mechanism that links dietary polyphenols and beneficial health effects," the study’s lead author Kroon, said of the finding’s promise in a press release. Their next step is to replicate the findings in humans, but in the meantime, maintain a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and green tea.

However, people who eat the proverbial apple a day don’t necessarily visit the doctor any less than non-apple eaters, but it is associated with fewer prescription medications, according to a recent study published in JAMA. Prescription medications account for nearly one-third of out-of pocket health care spending. So, there is an argument to be made to amend the saying to, “An apple a day and glass of green tea keeps the pharmacist away.”

Source: Kroon P, Moyle CWA, Cerezo AB, Winterbone MS, Hollands WJ, and Alexeev Y, et al. Potent inhibition of VEGFR-2 activation by tight binding of green tea epigallocatechin gallate and apple procyanidins to VEGF: Relevance to angiogenesis. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2015.