1. Apples can cut cholesterol levels

    An apple a day might not always keep the doctor away. But two apples might do the trick -- especially for older women.

    In a new study, postmenopausal women who ate 2.6 ounces of dried apples a day -- the equivalent of two medium fresh apples -- saw dramatic improvements in cholesterol levels.

    At three months, their levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol fell by 16 percent and their total cholesterol dropped by 9 percent. At six months, those LDL levels fell by 24 percent, and total cholesterol by 13 percent.

    They also saw a 4 percent boost in HDL ("good") cholesterol. That may not sound very big, but raising HDL levels even a little bit is often a big challenge for many people.

    Those cholesterol changes alone are impressive enough for something as simple as apples, but those weren't the only benefits. The women who ate the dried apples also lost an average of 3.3 pounds, possibly a "side effect" of the pectin in the fruit, which is known to help make people feel full.

    A control group of women given a daily helping of prunes saw slight dips in cholesterol, but nothing like what was seen among those who ate the apples. They also dropped a couple of pounds.

    And while women in both groups saw drops in their levels of C-reactive protein -- an inflammation marker linked to everything from heart disease to brain disorders -- the women who got the prunes had bigger drops in this department.

    Looks like prunes are good for more than just regularity, and I see no reason not to enjoy both prunes and apples if you like them. Just keep it moderate, since the sugar and calories can add up fast if you eat too much fruit -- especially dried fruit.

    And when it comes to apples, don't just pick up anything on sale at the supermarket. Go organic, because conventional apples have some of the highest levels of pesticides of anything in the produce aisle.

  2. Vitamin research doesn't pass the sniff test

    Sometimes, you just need to go with your gut.

    If you hear something that sounds just plain wrong, that's usually because it is.

    Take the latest study on multivitamins, which appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It concluded that women who take multivitamins face the same risk of cancer and heart disease as women who don't.

    Now if that sounds like bunk to you, that's because it is bunk – and no matter how many times you hear about it or read about it, at the end of the day it's still bunk.

    So before we go any further, let me reassure you: Keep taking your multivitamins. They're good for you, and one of the best bangs you'll ever get for your health bucks.

    That study everyone is talking about looked at 161,808 postmenopausal women over an eight-year period. Those look like nice big numbers, but that's all they are – nice, big numbers. They're trying to overwhelm you with numbers instead of facts.

    You see, this study relied on observational data. When it comes to scientific research, this is the least credible method, and with good reason. In an observational study, the researchers have no real control over their subjects. They just pick a whole bunch of people – so many people that they hope they can overcome the obvious problems with their methodology.

    Let me tell you something, friends – it just ain't that simple.

    The reason we prefer studies where we can retain control over all the variables is because those things really matter.

    In this study, we don't know what kind of multivitamins the women took or if they really took them daily. It's quite likely these women used different vitamins with different amounts of nutrients and minerals in them. We also don't know the diets of these women, or what vitamins they may have had deficiencies in.

    And here's another problem with the study: Many forms of cancer take years to develop. Looking at an eight-year period is like looking at only one corner of a picture. You're just not seeing the whole thing.

    When you see a study like this one, the best thing is to leave it outside at night for the wolves, because that's about all it's good for. Common sense tells us that because our food supply has been adulterated with mineral imbalances, and because processing depletes more vitamins than they fortify with, health consequences will follow eventually. With all the documentation showing that you need vitamins in order to sustain the chemical reactions of life, how could anyone argue otherwise?

    In their conclusion, the researchers said it's better for people to get their daily supply of vitamins from food, not multivitamins. Of course that's true, and no one would really argue otherwise. But to conclude that there is no benefit from multivitamins – well, that just doesn't pass the gut test. What do they think we are all stupid?

    The reality is that many people can't, don't, or simply won't get all the vitamins and nutrients they need from their diet. Other people may find it hard to figure out how much they're getting and whether or not it's enough. And still others may need more vitamins than the rest of us to make up for a deficiency or genetic weakness.

    A multivitamin is an easy, inexpensive and practical way of meeting those needs and making sure you're covered. This is a basic fact that is well-supported by years of extensive research on the subject – solid research, not just an observational study.

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