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6–12 prunes a day may lower inflammation, protect bones

Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease. It causes the bones to lose mass and become porous and fragile, especially in older adults.

This increases the risk of fractures and lasting effectsTrusted Source such as persistent pain and collapsed spine.

Osteoporosis affects every genderTrusted Source, but it occurs more often among older females. Further, bone fractures due to osteoporosis happen more frequently among postmenopausal people than in premenopausal individuals.

As the ovaries stop functioning during menopause in females, estrogen levels decrease. This sets off an increase in inflammation throughout the body which can contribute to bone loss.

New research from the Integrative and Biomedical Physiology Program and the Departments of Nutritional Sciences and Kinesiology at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) discusses how prune consumption affects inflammatory markers associated with bone loss.

This work suggests that women can lower inflammation by eating six to 12 prunes a day.

Lead author Janhavi Damani, MS, a graduate student at Penn State’s Huck Institute of the Life Sciences, presented her team’s findings at the Experimental Biology 2022 meeting of the American Physiological Society. The conference took place April 2–April 5 in Philadelphia, PA.

High inflammation and disease

Melissa M. Markofski, PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Houston in Texas. She was not involved in the study.

In an interview with Medical News Today, Dr. Markofski mentioned: “What we know is that there’s a strong link between [prolonged] high levels of inflammation [and] chronic diseases, especially osteoporosis.”

She also noted: “Inflammation is linked between the immune system and bone health, and we know that in a state of high inflammation people [with] high inflammatory markers [have] an increased likelihood for developing osteoporosis, especially women.”

Prunes and polyphenols

Polyphenols are active plant compounds with antioxidant properties. They help prevent or combat cell damage from free radicals, unstable molecules that are byproducts of metabolic processes and that can result in oxidative stress.

Prunes, which are rich in polyphenols, have demonstrated their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in other studies.

Did prunes lower inflammation?

Damani and her team studied 106 women ages 55-75 years with low bone mineral density scores, an indication of osteoporosis. The researchers aimed to evaluate how 12 months of prune consumption could affect inflammation levels.

One group of these people ate about six prunes every day for 12 months, and another group ate about 12 prunes daily for 12 months. A control group did not eat any prunes during this time.

All the participants consumed calcium and vitamin D supplements as well, as “standard of care.”

Checking blood samples before and after the trial, the researchers observed significant reductions in inflammatory markers in the participants who ate prunes compared to the control group.

Lead author Damani commented:

“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. Thus, prunes might be a promising nutritional intervention to prevent the rise in inflammatory mediators often observed as part of the aging process.”

Limitations and concerns

Before purchasing prunes in bulk, it may be helpful to acknowledge several limitations to this research.

The study sample size was quite small, and the participants were assessed for only 12 months.

Frederick Singer, MDTrusted Source is a professor of endocrinology and director of the endocrine and bone disease program at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. He was not involved in this research.

Dr. Singer noted that, although prunes “appear to show some effect on anti-inflammatory factors” in this study, the research did not include bone density measurements. That data would have been more beneficial, he felt.

He also argued that a bigger, more long-term study is warranted.

Drs. Markofski and Singer wondered if a daily dose of dozen prunes is realistic or healthy for most people. Dr. Markofski expressed concern that 12 prunes contain about 36 grams of sugar, the same amount “in a scoop of ice cream.”

Another significant consideration about this study is the funding. The authors acknowledge that the California Prunes Board sponsored their work.

Prevention, “the perfect way”

Sherry Ross, MD is an OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. She was not involved in this study.

Speaking with MNT, Dr. Ross was pleased that the study supports eating prunes to help lower the risk of osteoporosis. She agreed that diet can play a huge role in this effort:

“Osteoporosis, a silent disease, affects millions of women every year. Estrogen, calcium, and vitamin D are part of the building blocks important in keeping bone tissue healthy and strong. Prevention is the perfect way to avoid weak bones, which put you at risk for osteoporosis.”

“Whether you are in your 20’s, 30’s, or 40’s, making sure you have enough daily dietary calcium is an important step in building strong bones and preventing this disease that affects older women. Lifestyle changes including eating a well-balanced and colorful diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, and regular exercise helps establish healthy bones and should be started in puberty and adolescence.”

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