Ask people what prunes – dried plums – are good for, and most would probably reply that they’re effective at relieving constipation. While this is true, recent research is finding that they may also be one of the most effective ways for postmenopausal women to protect themselves against osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Researchers from Florida State University and Oklahoma State University conducted a study on 100 postmenopausal women, none of whom had regularly eaten prunes as part of their normal diet before the research began. During the year-long study, about half of these women consumed 100 grams (about 10 prunes) a day. Given the laxative qualities of the prunes, naturally they were advised to incorporate them into their diet slowly, and space the servings out across the day. The other half-a control group-consumed equal amounts of dried apples, chosen because they contain equivalent amounts of fat, carbohydrates, and fiber as the dried plums. Bone density was measured at the start of the study and at 3-, 6-, and 12-month intervals, and blood samples were taken to measure biomarkers related to bone turnover and bone resorption.
The results of the study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, indicated that while both groups experienced bone-protective benefits, the group consuming the dried prunes experienced more significant increases in bone density, and showed significant reductions (a good thing) of both bone turnover and resorption. The women adding prunes to their diet also had significantly higher bone density in the long bones of their forearms and in their spine than the women eating apples.
Bahram H. Arjmandi, leader of the study, hypothesizes that these results show that the prunes suppress the rate of bone resorption – the natural breakdown of bone structures and reduced density that occur with age, when the rate of bone loss begins to exceed the rate of new bone growth. Dr. Arjmandi says, “Over my career, I have tested numerous fruits, including figs, dates, strawberries and raisins, and none of them come anywhere close to having the effect on bone density that dried plums, or prunes, have.”
If this research is validated and replicated (it’s worth noting that the study was partially funded by the California Dried Plum Board), the findings would indicate that prunes or dried plums could become an important dietary tool in the fight against osteoporosis. It is also good to keep in mind that this is preliminary research. For the time being, the best nutritional advice from the healthcare community when it comes to preventing bone loss is to eat a balanced diet that provides lots of vitamin D, calcium and magnesium from a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as bone-building fish, meats and dairy products. It’s also important to spend time in the sun and to get regular exercise, since these factors also play a significant role in bone health.