Many people eat prunes to promote regular bowel movements. But this fruit has benefits that go well beyond keeping you regular.
Over half of Americans age 50 or over have either low bone mass or osteoporosis, which increases the risk of breaks and fractures. Prunes can preserve bone mass and density and hold back the development of osteoporosis.
Here’s how you can use this simple, natural remedy to fracture-proof your bones.
Loss of bone mass (osteopenia), together with the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, is a major health hazard that affects 54 million Americans. Women suffer the most, being four times more likely than men to experience osteoporosis. This is partly due to a decline in estrogen levels with the onset of menopause. At this time of life, the breaking down of old bone cells begins to outpace the formation of new ones.
Although medication can help treat the disease there’s growing interest in finding natural ways to conquer it, such as nutritional interventions. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University conducted several studies in 2022 to see if prunes would fit the bill.
Inhibits Inflammation and Free Radicals
They first conducted a research review of cellular studies, animal studies and two human trials. They concluded that prunes could help prevent or delay bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Senior author Connie Rogers explains why: “In postmenopausal women, lower levels of estrogen can trigger a rise of oxidative stress (excess free radicals) and inflammation, increasing the risk of weakening bones that may lead to fractures.”
Since prunes can inhibit oxidative stress and inflammation, “incorporating prunes into the diet may help protect bones by slowing or reversing this process.”
Another study author, Mary Jane De Souza, suggested other reasons why prunes are helpful.
“Fruits and vegetables that are rich in bioactive compounds such as phenolic acid, flavonoids and carotenoids can potentially help protect against osteoporosis, with prunes in particular gaining attention in previous research.”
Dr. De Souza says other bone-friendly factors in prunes include minerals such as boron, potassium, and copper, as well as vitamin K, and dietary fiber.
Having conducted their review, it was now time to carry out their own trial.
Prunes Prevent Bone Loss
The researchers evaluated the bone density of 235 postmenopausal women with an average age of 62. A third were asked to add 50 grams — roughly five or six prunes — to their daily diet for 12 months. Another third added 100 grams while the final group acted as controls by not eating any prunes.
The main finding was that consuming five to six prunes a day preserved bone mass density and strength at the hip, a finding that was observable at six months and persisted through month twelve.
The control group saw a 1.1 percent decrease in bone density. Preliminary findings indicate comparable results in the prune group for the tibia, a bone in the shin.
Consuming more than 50 grams didn’t offer any additional benefit, which is just as well. There was a 41 percent dropout rate for those assigned to eat ten to 12 prunes a day – I’m not surprised!– compared to only a 15 percent dropout rate in the group eating five or six a day.
Also Balanced Gut Health
In another finding from this study the researchers uncovered another way prunes can be helpful to human health – they positively alter the composition of the gut microbiome. The results, they wrote, “have implications for the use of prunes as a non-pharmacological whole food intervention for gut health.”
Although the study didn’t assess the gut’s role in osteoporosis, the researchers believe prunes may trigger a positive change in the gut microbiome to lower inflammation in the colon. This may then lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and markers of oxidative damage.
Eating a handful of prunes or drinking prune juice every morning may not be palatable to everyone, but it’s certainly an easy, inexpensive remedy for digestive problems and weakening bones.
I encourage you to try it for yourself and add some prunes to your daily diet—especially if you’re suffering from osteopenia, osteoporosis, or digestive problems.