By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
Hey, before you write off prunes as something old folks take for digestive irregularity, listen up. There’s brand-new science showing that prunes (also called dried plums) are a simple and effective way to help prevent osteoporosis and fractures.
Who knew? In a Florida State University article, researcher Bahram Arjmandi, Phd, RD, says, “Over my career, I have tested numerous fruits, including figs, dates, strawberries and raisins, and none of them come anywhere close to having the effect on bone density that dried plums, or prunes, have. All fruits and vegetables have a positive effect on nutrition, but in terms of bone health, this particular food is exceptional.”
Got your attention yet?
In a study funded by both the USDA as well as the California Dried Plum Board, Arjmandi and his team made some intriguing discoveries. When they followed two groups of postmenopausal women (both receiving calcium and vitamin D supplements, but only one group consuming 10 prunes per day), those taking prunes (provided by the California Dried Plum Board) had significantly more bone mineral density in the forearm bone and the spine compared to the standard therapy group. The scientists believe that the prunes decrease bone breakdown and this is especially important for women who are just now entering menopause.
Over the course of the first 5-7 years after menopause, bone loss can occur at a rate of 3% to 5% per year. And guys, this is your issue too. Although 8 million women per year are diagnosed with osteoporosis, 2 million men are found to be losing significant enough bone to carry the diagnosis.
Wait, there’s more prune news you can use. It turns out prunes are also emerging as a heart-healthy fruit. What we already knew is that prunes reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and the fruit’s pectin fiber is associated with reductions in cholesterol. Some even refer to prunes as a super-food due to its nutrient-rich composition, including vitamin A, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and copper.
The new news comes from a recent animal study in which mice highly prone to atherosclerosis (commonly known as hardening of the arteries) were fed the mouse equivalent of 10 prunes per day (in powder form) over the course of 5 months. After the study period, the researchers noted that there was a reduction in the plaque lesions noted in the whole arterial system including the aortic arch. That means the buildup of dangerous artery clogging plaque was reduced throughout all of the body’s highways of arteries including the biggest artery of all, the aorta, located deep inside your abdomen and extending up to your heart.
How much should you eat? If you want to try it out for yourself, a simple thing to do is to take one plum along with each meal. Then, as tolerated, increase to 5-6 per day. Five prunes have about 100 calories, so this is a good incentive to stay active and use this glucose fuel as you lift weights to strengthen your bones. It’s a royal win-win.
Also, as I’ve noted in the past, please make sure you have your vitamin D levels checked by your physician and take the prescribed amount recommended in conjunction with your calcium. Top that off with regular strength training and you’ve optimized your bone health. And, your regularity!