Osteoporosis is a growing health concern – one in three women and up to one in five men over the age of 50 break a bone in their lifetime; there are more than 1.14 million postmenopausal women who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis in England and Wales and US data indicates that for women the chance of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer – so experts are delighted with new research from California Prunes published in Osteoporosis International in February 2016, which points to the important role that prunes can play in maintaining healthy bones.
The research is based on a clinical trial which expanded on previous evidence to suggest that prunes may help support healthy bones in postmenopausal women. In the earlier study, it was discovered that post menopausal women eating 100g (approximately two servings or about 10-12) prunes for one year did not lose bone mineral density (BMD) at the ulna (one of the long bones in the forearm) and spine, compared to the control group. The new study examined whether the same results could be achieved with eating just 50g (one serving of about 5 to 6 prunes). The study showed that just 50g of prunes a day is as effective as 100g prunes a day in limiting bone loss in older menopausal women who are at increased risk of osteoporosis.
Prunes and bone density
The research assigned the women to one of three groups, eating either 0g, 50g or 100g of California prunes daily for 6 months. All the women were also required to receive calcium and vitamin D supplements – two crucial nutrients for bone health. The results showed that those receiving the supplements with the prunes fared better, showing a significantly higher total body bone mineral density than those who took the supplements with no prunes. Although prunes do not contain calcium and vitamin D, they are high in vitamin K and a source of manganese* which the EU has already authorised to carry a health claim, recognising their importance in maintaining normal bone health. Further research is now underway to explore the exact mechanisms by which prunes can play a role in bone health and whether it is specific nutrient components in the prunes, or the whole package that is important.
Dr Shirin Hooshmand, PhD and lead researcher on the study at the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University says, “These research findings suggest that by incorporating just 5 to 6 prunes a day into a healthy bone-friendly diet can help maintain bone mineral density – which ultimately means potentially staving off the fractures associated with osteoporosis.”
This research is hot on the heels of another recent study published by scientists in Nature, which suggests that Prunes may help minimise bone loss in those exposed to radiation, including astronauts in space, as well as radiation workers and those who receive radiation therapy as part of a treatment for cancer.
To make the choice of prunes more appealing we have some recipes from Rosemary Schrager and Jennifer Irvine