The humble prune may hold the key to better bone health, according to a new study that found eating dried plums to be a good way to counter the inflammation that contributes to osteoporosis.
The work, which will be presented this week at the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting, builds on previous research that the polyphenol extracts found in prunes are capable of lowering levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in a type of bone cell known osteoclasts. While osteoporosis has long been attributed to endocrine, metabolic and mechanical factors, this more recent study suggests inflammation plays a key role in bone turnover.
Osteoporosis is often referred to as “the silent thief” because bones lose their density slowly over the years without presenting any obvious symptoms. As adults age, the natural process that replaces old bones becomes less effective, resulting in a loss of bone tissue.
As of 2015 to 2016, approximately 2.2 million Canadians aged 40 or older were living with an osteoporosis diagnosis, according to a report by the Canadian Chronic Surveillance System. About 80 per cent of those diagnosed with the metabolic disease, which is characterized by low bone density and an increased likelihood of fracture, were female. Older women are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis because their bones are generally less dense than those of men and as they age they experience a decline in estrogen, a bone-protecting hormone.
From 2015 to 2016, the report noted that diagnosed patients suffered around 130,000 fractures, mostly to the forearms. The rate of fractures was higher for women than men and increased in likelihood with age. Despite the fact that these fractures are associated with significant mortality and expense, most high-risk individuals neglect to undergo appropriate screening or treatment.
To see if prunes might be able to reduce some of the inflammatory fallout of aging, researchers recruited postmenopausal women with a low bone mineral density score (an indicator of osteoporosis) and divided them into three groups. The first group was required to eat 50 grams (about six prunes) a day for a year; the second ate 100 grams (about 12 prunes) a day for a year; and a control group did not eat any prunes.
Researchers, who took blood samples from the women before and after the study, discovered a significant reduction in inflammatory markers in both groups of prune-eating women compared to the control group.
“Our findings suggest that consumption of six to 12 prunes per day may reduce pro-inflammatory mediators that may contribute to bone loss in postmenopausal women,” said Janhavi Damani, the first author of the study. “Thus, prunes might be a promising nutritional intervention to prevent the rise in inflammatory mediators often observed as part of the aging process.”
Dave Yasvinski is a writer with Healthing.ca