- 10 million Americans age 50 and older have osteoporosis, but women are 4 times more likely to develop the condition.
- A new study shows that postmenopausal women who consume prunes have a decreased risk for bone loss associated with osteoporosis.
- Prunes contain many nutrients associated with bone health, but more research is needed to understand how prunes work to mitigate bone loss.
- Experts caution against relying on prune consumption as a treatment for osteoporosis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 20% of women 50 years of age and older are living with osteoporosis of the femur, neck, or lumbar spine.
However, two new studies from Pennsylvania State University found that eating prunes daily could help prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women.
The findings of both studies are based on data from the same 235 postmenopausal women and were shared in a poster session at the North American Menopause Society’s (NAMS) annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
The research was funded by the California Prune Board.
Osteoporosis can affect anyone, but women at highest risk
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) say about 10 million American adults over 50 have osteoporosis, but women are 4 times more likely than men to develop the condition.
This bone loss is caused partly by age and partly by declining estrogen levels, which contributes to increased inflammation that suppresses bone formation, according to NAMS.
Inflammation associated with bone loss
The first of the two new studies looked at the relationship between cells called inflammatory mediators, which release inflammation-reducing substances, and different measures of bone health, including bone density and strength.
“Our findings demonstrate that inflammatory markers are negatively associated with bone health in postmenopausal women, suggesting that inflammation might be an important mediator for postmenopausal bone loss and a potential target for nutritional therapies,” Connie Rogers, PhD, MPH, professor and head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Georgia, said in a statement.
Women who ate prunes vs. those who didn’t
The other study compared four groups to discover what benefit eating prunes may have to prevent bone loss.
There was a control group that did not eat prunes, a group that ate 5 to 6 prunes per day, a group that ate 10 to 12 prunes daily, and a combined group – which consisted of women eating either 5 to 6, or 10 to 12 prunes daily.
“Our latest research represents the largest trial, with a cohort of over 200 postmenopausal women, to investigate the connection between prunes and favorable bone health,” the study’s chief investigator, Mary Jane De Souza, PhD, FACSM, told Healthline.
The ‘prune effect’
“Through prior smaller studies, researchers have reported what is being referred to as the positive ‘prune effect,’ revealing that prunes seem to play an important role in bone health,” De Souza explained.
She explained that this larger, randomized controlled trial (RCT) was conducted to validate and replicate findings from earlier smaller trials suggesting prunes may be a “promising, non-pharmacological nutrition intervention” for preserving bone and maintaining bone density and strength.
Prunes prevent bone loss
De Souza’s findings also indicated that the pooled group of women experienced measurable bone benefits.
“While we were not necessarily surprised by the current results given previous studies that have also shown positive correlations to bone health,” she said.
“This study is the largest randomized controlled trial conducted to date on the topic, so we were quite pleased to see this type of result among such a substantial sample size.”
Prunes have anti-inflammatory effects
De Souza noted that prunes contain several vitamins and minerals important for bones but said “it’s not necessarily clear,” what it is in prunes that exerts a favorable effect on bone health.
“Prunes are good for bones,” De Souza said. “We also know that prunes have anti-inflammatory effects, and we have specifically studied this effect and will report on these findings soon.”
“We are eager to continue this type of bone health-related research while also expanding investigations into the influence of prunes on the gut-bone axis and what research may reveal about that connection,” De Souza added.
Nutrition can play a ‘significant’ role in reversing disease
Emily Feivor, RDN, a registered dietitian at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in Queens, part of Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline that food could be a “significant piece” for disease reversal in many chronic diseases, including:
“Medical nutrition therapy is used every day to aid in improving nutritional status in many of these preventable conditions,” Feivor said.
“Those who are prediabetic or have diabetes are encouraged to limit added sugars and incorporate more complex carbohydrates and fiber to decrease A1C [blood sugar levels]. Those diagnosed with heart disease are advised to monitor saturated fats, increase unsaturated fats, and fiber to lower cholesterol.”
Prunes provide vitamin K and potassium
Feivor echoed the study findings and said that prunes provide nutrients essential for maintaining healthy bones.
“In just four prunes, we receive 23% of our daily value of vitamin K, which makes proteins to assist in the building of our bones, as well as 6% of our daily potassium needs, which aids in preventing calcium loss from our bones,” Feivor said.
“Considering they pack such a punch in these nutrients, they may be beneficial to consume for those diagnosed with bone-loss ailments.”
Part of a balanced diet
According to Feivor, a serving of prunes also provides both types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
“With each serving of prunes providing three grams, this aids in regulating cholesterol levels and moving food through our digestive tract,” she said.
Feivor emphasized that besides being a great source of fiber, prunes contain no added sugar, are an excellent source of minerals, and “can be a healthy choice in a balanced diet.”
However, Feivor cautioned that while “strong evidence” supports the benefits of consuming prunes based on their nutritional makeup, she would not recommend them to be the sole source of treatment for bone diseases.
The bottom line
New research finds that for postmenopausal women, including prunes in their daily diet can help prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis.
Experts say that prunes contain many nutrients associated with bone health but that it’s still unclear why they have the effect researchers observed.
They also say it’s not a good idea to rely solely on eating prunes as a treatment for bone disease.
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