Eating 5 to 6 prunes a day may prevent bone loss, osteoporosis

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Incorporating prunes into your daily diet can help bone health, according to new research. Westend61/Getty Images
  • Osteoporosis, or loss of bone mass and density, affects many people, especially people over 50, leading to an increased risk of fractures and fractures.
  • A new randomized controlled trial shows that eating 5-6 prunes a day can preserve bone mass and density and stop the development of osteoporosis.
  • The same researchers found in a second study that a loss of bone health is associated with inflammatory processes in the body, and prunes are known to be anti-inflammatory.

Osteoporosis is a condition in which a person’s bones lose density and mass, making bones more likely to break. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 10 million Americans have the condition, with another 44 million lacking bone density, putting them at risk for osteoporosis.

Half of women over 50 are at increased risk of breaking a bone, and one in four men. Loss of bone mass and density can occur at any age. However, osteoporosis is most common among the elderly.

Osteoporosis occurs most often in postmenopausal women. During 2017-2018, 19.6% of women over 50 developed the condition – a higher percentage than the number of women who have a heart attack, stroke or develop breast cancer combined.

The bones of the hip, vertebrae, and wrist are the most common sites for bone fractures due to osteoporosis, although they can occur in any bone. For the elderly, hip fractures can be particularly serious.

A new randomized controlled trial shows that eating 5-6 prunes a day can halt the development of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, compared to a control group that did not consume the fruit.

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This is the second of a pair of studies from researchers at Penn State University in University Park, PA. The first, an observational study not yet published, examined an association between inflammatory markers and loss of bone mineral density, or BMD.

Principal investigator Dr. Mary Jane Souza said Medical news today:

“Our findings suggest that higher levels of inflammatory markers were associated with lower trabecular lumbar spine bone scores among study participants—essentially, the more inflammation, the worse bone health.”

“Inflammation may be an important mediator of postmenopausal bone loss and a potential target for nutritional therapies,” Dr. Souza noted.

The research, funded by the California Prune Board, was presented at the North American Menopause Society Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 2022.

Dr. Souza explained that researchers have been investigating the connections between prunes and bone health for many years.

“Our latest research represents the largest study, with a cohort of over 200 postmenopausal women, to examine the association between prunes and beneficial bone health,” she said.

Dr. Souza told MNT that with the current larger randomized trial, they wanted to build on existing research “to validate and replicate findings from previous smaller trials that suggested prunes may be a promising, non-pharmacological nutritional intervention to preserve bone and maintain bone density and strength.”

“Our study is the first to reveal that consumption of just 5-6 prunes per day prevented a loss of bone density in the hip, the site of most concern for aging men and women because hip fractures typically lead to hospitalization, reduced quality of life, and loss of autonomy.”
— Dr. Mary Jane Souza

“Prune eaters were also protected from an increased hip fracture risk compared to non-prune eaters, whose fracture risk was exacerbated,” she added.

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The researchers also found “a similar trend where bone strength is maintained at the tibia and volumetric cortical density is maintained, while the control group showed deterioration in these parameters.”

The researchers divided the participants into three groups. One, the control group, did not eat prunes. Another group ate 5-6 prunes daily, and another ate 10-12 prunes every day.

The benefit of prunes was most evident at 5-6 daily, with no benefit for eating more.

“The main differences were that we had a much lower dropout rate in the 5-6 prunes per day group – 15% compared to 41% dropout in the 10-12 prunes per day group,” Dr Souza said.

“In addition, we saw that hip BMD was maintained in the 6 prunes per day group compared to the control group—a finding that was not observed in the 10-12 prunes per day group. This finding was observed within six months and … persisted to month 12.”
— Dr. Mary Jane Souza

“We also observed that FRAX [Fracture Risk Assessment] the total hip score did not increase in the pooled group of women [containing both the 5-6 prunes a day group and the 10–12 prunes a day group] compared to the control group, says Dr. Souza. This suggests that eating more prunes did not increase bone health.

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“Although it is not necessarily clear exactly what it is in prunes that exerts this beneficial effect on bone health, this whole fruit contains several vitamins and minerals important for bones, including boron, potassium, copper and vitamin K. Prunes also contain polyphenols – bioactive compounds that appear to play a role in bone formation, says Dr. Souza.

Noting the anti-inflammatory effects of prunes, she said they “have specifically studied this effect and will report on these findings soon.”

“We are keen to continue this type of bone health-related research, while expanding investigations into the impact of prunes on the gut-bone axis, and what research can reveal about that connection,” she added.

Michelle Routhenstein, cardiology dietitian at EntirelyNourished.com, who was not involved in the study, suggested that Medical news today additional ways to maintain healthy bones:

“Other dietary strategies that can help fight bone loss and support bone strength include consuming adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, potassium and vitamin K from food.”

“I would highly recommend getting calcium from foods like sardines, yogurt, and collard greens. Other foods rich in vitamin K, magnesium, and potassium include edamame and leafy greens like Swiss chard and kale.”
—Michelle Routhenstein

Routhenstein added that for those who want to use supplements to keep their bones healthy, she advised “to avoid high-dose calcium supplements over 500 mg because of its ability to cause calcification in the arteries.”

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