Prunes boost bone health in postmenopausal women

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When it comes to maintaining strong bones, most people think of dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt. However, a new study by Pennsylvania State University researchers reveals that prunes might be just as beneficial for bone health, especially for postmenopausal women. This groundbreaking research, published in Osteoporosis International, indicates that daily consumption of prunes can slow age-related bone loss and lower the risk of fractures.

Understanding bone health and ageing

Bones are dynamic tissues that are continuously being remodelled. This means that old bone tissue is constantly being broken down and replaced with new tissue. However, this process can become imbalanced as we age, leading to more bone being broken down than replaced. This imbalance can result in osteoporosis, a condition characterised by decreased bone density and structural changes that make bones weaker and more prone to fractures.

Osteoporosis is particularly prevalent among postmenopausal women. The drop in estrogen levels during menopause accelerates bone density loss, making bones weaker. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, with women being more affected than men, especially as they age.

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A study conducted in Thailand in 2023 showed that about 37.3% of Thai postmenopausal women are eligible for anti-osteoporosis therapy.

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Although there are medications available to treat osteoporosis, many women who could benefit from these treatments do not take them.

The power of prunes

Enter prunes, a potential non-pharmacological alternative to maintaining bone health. Prunes are rich in bioactive compounds like polyphenols, which may help reduce inflammation and thus slow down bone loss. This makes them a promising option for women looking to maintain their bone health naturally.

The study led by Mary Jane De Souza, a distinguished professor of kinesiology and physiology at Penn State, is the first randomised controlled trial to explore the effects of prune consumption on three-dimensional bone outcomes, including bone structure, geometry, and estimated strength.

“In our study, we saw that daily prune consumption impacted factors related to fracture risk. That’s clinically invaluable,” said De Souza.

The study

To investigate the potential benefits of prunes, the research team conducted a 12-month randomised controlled trial involving 235 postmenopausal women. The participants were divided into three groups: one group did not consume any prunes, another consumed 50 grams of prunes daily (equivalent to four to six prunes), and the third group consumed 100 grams of prunes daily (equivalent to 10 to 12 prunes). Every six months, the participants underwent peripheral quantitative computed tomography (pQCT) scans, which provide detailed cross-sectional images to measure three-dimensional bone mass density, bone geometry, and bone strength.

Key findings

The results were compelling. Women in the control group, who did not consume prunes, experienced decreases in bone mass density and bone strength at the tibia (shin bone) over the year. In contrast, those who consumed at least four to six prunes daily maintained their bone density and strength, particularly in cortical bone, which is the dense outer surface layer of the bone. This preservation of bone structure is crucial in preventing fractures.

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Interestingly, while both prune-consuming groups saw benefits, the group that consumed four to six prunes daily was more likely to stick with the regimen. Participants in the group that consumed 100 grams of prunes daily were more likely to drop out of the study, citing boredom with eating so many prunes each day.

“It’s pretty exciting data for a 12-month study,” said De Souza. “We were able to maintain and preserve bone at the weight-bearing, cortical bone of the tibia, and the maintenance of cortical bone and bone strength is key to avoiding fractures.”

Broader implications

De Souza and her team have built on previous research showing that prunes can preserve bone mass density at the hip. They have also explored how prunes might affect the gut microbiome, which could further explain their bone-protective effects. However, more research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind these benefits fully and to confirm whether prunes can effectively reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

The findings from this study highlight the potential of dietary interventions in bone health management. While medications are available to treat osteoporosis, incorporating prunes into the diet could be a simple and natural way to help maintain bone strength and reduce the risk of fractures, particularly for postmenopausal women.

Final thoughts

Prunes offer a promising and natural approach to maintaining bone health in postmenopausal women. Their bioactive compounds may help slow down bone loss and preserve bone structure and strength, reducing the risk of fractures. This study underscores the importance of considering dietary options alongside medical treatments in the fight against osteoporosis. So, the next time you’re thinking about your bone health, remember that a handful of prunes each day might just be the simple solution you need.


Dr. Nikhil Prasad

Dr. Nikhil Prasad is an independent researcher, medical, pharma and health PR consultant, herbalists and phytochemical specialists and a medical and health writer for numerous international publications and sites including his own sites such as Thailand Medical News. He is based either at Sydney, New York, Shanghai, Mumbai or Bangkok.

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