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100 Apples a Day Keeps the Exhaustion Away?

Appalachian State research at Kannapolis campus to focus on exhaustion-fighting sports drink Earlier this summer, Appalachian State University announced it plans to become the eighth school to join the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. ASU is taking advantage of the campus to expand its Human Performance Lab. The lab's director expects the space to be ready sometime next month. At the school's main campus in Boone, research is already underway on developing a product to increase the endurance of athletes, soldiers in battle and others to help fight exhaustion. Imagine a barrel filled with 100 apples. Their skins are red and shiny, just bursting with fiber and antioxidants. Now what if scientists could harness the power of all of those apples skins, so you could ingest their most active molecules every day? That's what Dr. David Nieman of Appalachian State University wanted to find out, with the help of a cycle ergometer. It looks like your typical stationary bike, but with a round silver pendulum running along its side. Nieman's lab is filled with cycle ergometers - and other devices to measure how hard and fast a cyclist is working. One day, equipment like this could lead the way to a new kind of sports drink that could contain many of the benefits found in all of those apple skins. Dr. Nieman believes, much like the founder of the North Carolina Research Campus, David Murdoch, that this kind of research can unlock scientific secrets. "He truly believes that within these fruits and vegetables, even in the peels and the leaves, are undiscovered molecules that are like gems waiting to be discovered," Nieman says. One of these gems is a tiny flavonoid - or plant pigment - called quercetin. It's found in the skin of apples, berries, and onions. Nieman had a hunch that quercetin could improve immunity and mental clarity in people undergoing severe physical stress, like soldiers. "On these three day missions, they run around with heavy packs, they don't eat, they lose weight and they get sick," Nieman says. Nieman pitched a proposal to the research arm of The Department of Defense. In 2005. Appalachian State was awarded $1.1 million dto find out what high doses of quercetin could do. First, Nieman and his colleagues needed a way to mimic the physical exhaustion that soldiers experience. "What the Department of Defense told us is that their best war fighters are like endurance athletes," he says. So Nieman chose 40 trained cyclists. He gave half of them one thousand milligrams of quercetin a day and the other half a placebo. "We had them ride three hours a day, three days in a row. Took a liter of their blood, gave them four muscle biopsies. They were extremely tired. And during the two weeks after that, we showed that quercetin dramatically lowered infection rates." Nieman found that only 5 percent of quercetin subjects suffered from upper respiratory tract infections - like the common cold - compared to 45 percent of the placebo group. Neiman also tested both groups' mental performance by having them react to a series of targets on a computer screen. "It helped maintain mental vigilance during this time as well," Nieman says. No adverse side effects were found, so now the military gives its troops regular doses of quercetin in soft chewy squares that look - and taste - a lot like Starburst candies. But before rows of quercetin candies or sports drinks line supermarket shelves, Neiman wants to know what else quercetin can do. So he's conducting the first large community study on this molecule found in apple skins - to find out how high doses affect average people. "We're looking at disease risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation, oxidative stress, and infection rates." A year from now, Nieman hopes to see a quercetin sports drink sitting in the cooler next to Gatorade. He says he's brought the idea to a number of beverage companies, but says it's too early to share the details. "I, I better wait a little bit," he quips. What Nieman will say is that his new lab at the North Carolina Research Campus will help him and his colleagues find new ways to look at something as simple as an apple peel. "The future is finding these new unique plant molecules like quercetin, that can help humans get through what they go through in better fashion."