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Eating a handful of prunes a day in later life can stave off bone loss seriously affecting more than 44million Americans, study finds

  • Researchers at Penn State University asked 235 women to eat prunes
  • A third abstained, while the rest ate either four to six or ten to 12 prunes a day
  • Prune consumers were significantly less likely to lose bone in the hip, they found
  • Scientists said this may be because prunes can reduce inflammation in the body 

Eating a handful of prunes a day may help to prevent bone loss in later life, a study suggests.

Researchers at Penn State University found that women in their 60s who ate at least four to six prunes per day experienced significantly less hip bone loss than others.

Scientists said the prunes may have reduced inflammation in the body, a key driver of bone loss.

Older women are at higher risk of weakened bones because the menopause can raise inflammation levels in the body, increasing the risk of weakened bones.

An estimated 20 per cent of women over 50 have osteoporosis — weak or brittle bones — due to this compared to just four per cent of men. 

Some 44million Americans are estimated to have low bone mass.

Eating four to six prunes a day could help to prevent bone loss, hydroxyurea bula a study has suggested (file)

Researchers, who presented findings this week at the North American Menopause Society’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, recruited 235 women for the study.

Participants were about 62 years old on average and had already gone through the menopause.

They were split into three equal groups, eating either no prunes, or 50 grams (g) per day – or four to six of the dried fruits – or 100g – 10 to 12 daily.

They were given the ‘Improved French’ prune variety, a type of La Petite D’Agen native to the South West of France.  

All participants diets were also supplemented with calcium and vitamin D3 supplements, which can similarly help to prevent bone loss.

Scans were carried out to measure bone density in the hip, neck and hip socket at the start of the study and at the six month and a year points.

Why could prunes slow down bone loss?

Estrogen is released in the menstrual cycle to thicken the lining of the uterus, in preparation for the possibility of a pregnancy.

It also helps to reduce levels of inflammation in the blood, in turn ensuring that bone density is not lost.

But after the menopause the ovaries stop manufacturing this hormone, leading to a rise in inflammation levels.

This affects osteoclasts — cells responsible for building and maintaining bone — which raises the risk of someone having weaker or brittle bones.

Some scientists argue that prunes may be able to help slow this because they contain polyphenols, an antioxidant.

This can help to lower inflammation levels in the blood and boost the activity of osteoclasts, helping to maintain bone density.

The dried fruits also contain magnesium and vitamin K, which are important for maintaining healthy bones.

Source: Healthline 

For hips, results showed that the group who ate no prunes had an about 1.1 per cent loss of bone density a year after the study began.

But for those who ate four to six prunes a day the density barely shifted.

The result was similar for the group eating more prunes, but the scientists said any protective effect could be masked because of its much higher drop out rate.

Blood tests also revealed those who ate prunes had significantly lower inflammation levels in the blood than those who did not. 

There was no significant difference in bone mass in the spine or hip socket between the groups a year after the study began.

There was also no significant difference in the risk of hip fractures between the groups.

Dr Mary Jane de Souza, a physiotherapist at Penn State who led the study, and others wrote in the paper that eating four to six prunes a day was ‘well tolerated’.

‘A 50g daily dose of prunes can prevent loss of total hip bone mass density in postmenopausal women after six months which persists for 12 months,’ they said.

‘Given that there was high compliance and retention at the 50g dosage over 12 months, we propose that the 50g dose represents a valuable nonpharmacologic treatment strategy that can be used to preserve hip bone mass density in postmenopausal women and possibly reduce hip fracture risk.’

Estrogen is released in the menstrual cycle to thicken the lining of the uterus, in preparation for the possibility of a pregnancy.

It also helps to reduce levels of inflammation in the blood, in turn ensuring that bone density is not lost.

But after the menopause the ovaries stop manufacturing this hormone, leading to a rise in inflammation levels.

This affects osteoclasts — cells responsible for building and maintaining bone — which raises the risk of someone having weaker or brittle bones.

Some scientists argue that prunes may be able to help slow this because they contain polyphenols, an antioxidant.

This can help to lower inflammation levels in the blood and boost the activity of osteoclasts, helping to maintain bone density.

The dried fruits also contain magnesium and vitamin K, which are important for maintaining healthy bones.

The trial was carried out between January 2016 and February 2021.

It was sponsored by the Californian Prune Board, which represents prune manufacturers in America.

The study was also published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this month.

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