Let’s be honest: Prunes are not the most appealing addition to anyone’s diet. While popularly known to help with digestion and constipation, this wrinkled, squishy, dried-up purple fruit may also be good for bone health.
A recent study led by researchers from Pennsylvania State University suggests prunes can help prevent or delay bone loss in postmenopausal women, possibly due to their ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress (caused when antioxidants are unbalanced in the body)—both of which can lead to bone loss.
“Preclinical and clinical studies suggest that prunes may impact bone health by improving measures of bone metabolism, along with bone biochemical and structural properties,” Armin Alaedini, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition, told Seasons. “The beneficial impact of prunes on bone health has been attributed mainly to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”
The study analyzed data from preclinical studies and clinical trials, and found that eating 100 grams of prunes (equivalent to about 10 pieces) each day for a year improved bone density in the forearm and lower spine and decreased bone turnover. In addition, eating 50 or 100 grams of prunes a day for six months prevented the total loss of bone mineral density compared to women who did not eat them.
“Eating prunes can limit the process of bone resorption, which leads to bone loss, based on markers of bone in the blood,” Jeri Nieves, PhD, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, told Seasons. “If bones are weak and bone density is low, it might result in broken bones or fractures. Fracture is the clinical outcome we want to prevent.”
Bone loss and its link to broken bones and other health issues
Many fractures in the older adult population are caused by osteoporosis, a bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decreases, which can weaken bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. The most common injuries in people with osteoporosis are broken wrists, hips and spinal bones.
Alaedini said while the prevalence of the condition can differ based on country and region, the prevalence in the U.S. among all adults aged 50 and over is about 12%. The prevalence is higher among women (19%) than men (4%). Approximately one in two women and one in four men will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime, added Nieves.
People who develop osteoporosis or weakened bones can experience symptoms of fractures, as well as severe back pain, shortness of breath, loss of height or spine malformations, such as hunched or stooped posture, said Alaedini. Fractures can occur from minor falls or even normal stresses such as bending, lifting or even coughing.
Women are at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis and weakened bones than men, Alaedini said, and women over 50 are most likely to be affected.
As stated by the NIH, white and Asian women are at the highest risk while African American and Mexican American women have a lower risk. While women are affected more, men are still susceptible to the condition. White men are at higher risk than African American and Mexican American men.
Other factors may also increase the risk of osteoporosis, including family history, body size, medications, changes to hormones, other medical conditions, diet and lifestyle.
Never too late to make changes
The experts agree it’s always a good time to make changes to improve your bone health. In fact, good nutrition and regular exercise can positively impact bone health at any age.
“It is never too early or too late to take care of your bone health,” Nieves said. “Your skeleton is a living tissue and changes at any time can help.”
Beyond adding prunes, exercising, following a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting alcohol intake and avoiding smoking can boost and strengthen bone health.
“Calcium and vitamin D are particularly important to bone health,” Alaedini said. “So, it is important to include foods in the diet that are good sources of these. In the case of people with calcium or vitamin deficiency, use of supplements may be recommended.”
Nieves also recommended that post-menopausal women and older men take a bone density test and talk to their health care provider about bone health.
Other benefits of prunes
In addition to reducing oxidative stress and inflammation – as well as the gastrointestinal and digestive health benefits – prunes can have positive impacts on immune, cardiovascular and cognitive health.
David Jacobsen, an expert in diet and dietary supplements, told Seasons prunes are a good source of fiber (which helps with digestion), potassium (which helps with the function of muscles) and iron (which helps the body deliver blood to cells for repairing tissue). He said consuming prunes can additionally reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
“Prunes are also good for bone health and are an excellent source of Vitamin A, B12, C and K,” he said. “All of the vitamins improve bone strength and density and that, in turn, can reduce the likelihood of bone fracturing.”
Just be aware that eating high servings of prunes can cause potential side effects, including diarrhea, gas, bloating and possible abdominal pain. They can also contribute a high number of calories and sugar to your daily intake.