ATLANTA (June 22, 2000) - How is this for a new twist to an old adage: It's the phytochemicals in the apples and apple juice each day that keep the doctor away.

According to new research from Cornell University published in the June 22 issue of Nature, a combination of plant chemicals, such as flavonoids and polyphenols -- collectively known as phytochemicals or phytonutrients -- found both within the flesh of apple and the skin -- provide the fruit's anti-oxidant and anti-cancer benefits.

Although it has long been known that apples provide anti-oxidant and health benefits, "this concept is different," says Dr. Rui Hai Liu, Cornell assistant professor of food science and lead author on the Nature article. Says Liu, "Scientists are interested in isolating single compounds -- such as vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene -- to see if they exhibit anti-oxidant or anti-cancer benefits. It turns out that none of those works alone to reduce cancer. It's the combination of flavonoids and polyphenols doing the work."

An anti-oxidant is one of many chemicals that reduce or prevent oxidation, thus preventing cell and tissue damage from free radicals in the body. "In this research, we have shown the importance of phytochemicals to human health," says Liu's collaborator, Chang Yong Lee, Cornell professor of food science at the university's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y. "Some of the phytochemicals are known to be anti-allergenic, some are anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-proliferative. Now I have a reason to say an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

"The researchers found that vitamin C from apples is only responsible for a small portion of the anti-oxidant activity. Instead, almost all of this activity in apples is from phytonutrients. The Cornell researchers found that eating 100 grams of fresh apple with skins provided the total anti-oxidant activity equal to 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C.

What this study shows is the combination of phytochemicals plays a very important role in anti-oxidant and anti-cancer activity, and the real health benefits may come from a phytochemical mixture (found in foods).

Using colon cancer cells treated with apple extract, the scientists found that cell proliferation was inhibited in vitro. The researchers also tested the apple extract against human liver cancer cells and again found inhibition of the growth of those cells.

This study is just the latest to demonstrate the health benefits of components found in apples and apple products. In 1999, researchers at the University of California at Davis (UC-Davis) confirmed that these important phytonutrients pass through to the apple juice.. They also found that apple phytonutrients from fresh apples and apple juice inhibited the oxidation of the LDL or bad cholesterol. According to UC-Davis researcher Eric Gershwin, M.D., "What our research demonstrates is that you can add apple juice onto the list of fruits and vegetables which are good for you because they clearly contain a significant amount of these important plant components." That research was published in the April 16 issue of Life Sciences.

Other recent studies on the health benefits of apple products have been published in the past few years, all of which continue to solidify the important role that apples, apple juice and applesauce play in a healthful diet.