- Declining estrogen levels during menopause may trigger an increase in inflammation.
- Inflammation is associated with the development of osteoporosis.
- However, daily prune consumption may help reduce this inflammation.
- Dietary factors like calcium and vitamin D also help prevent bone loss.
- Weight-bearing exercise and monitoring through DEXA scans can also help.
This week, at the American Physiological Society’s (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2022, research was presented indicating that eating prunes could help postmenopausal people ward off certain inflammatory factors associated with the development of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, making them more prone to fractures.
It occurs because, as people age, they begin to lose bone faster than they make it.
Anyone can develop osteoporosis; however, older women are most prone to the condition due to the loss of estrogen during menopause. Estrogen helps prevent bone loss.
According to the lead author of the study, Janhavi Damani, a PhD candidate at Pennsylvania State University, a declining estrogen level can trigger an increase in inflammation, which contributes to postmenopausal bone loss.
Her research indicates that certain compounds in prunes may prevent this inflammatory response.
Damani said the purpose of the study was to look at the effect of two different doses of prune consumption on inflammatory markers in postmenopausal people.
Polyphenol extracts found in prunes can act as antioxidants, reducing inflammation in a special type of bone cell called osteoclasts.
The study participants were postmenopausal women with a low bone density score, a sign of osteoporosis.
They were divided into three groups. Each group was assigned to eat either 50 g of prunes daily (about six prunes), 100 g of prunes daily (about 12 prunes), or no prunes at all, for a period of 12 months.
At the beginning and end of the study, the team analyzed blood samples from the women to look for inflammatory markers.
After examing the data, the authors found that prune consumption did indeed seem to help with reducing inflammation.
“Our findings suggest that consuming about six to 12 prunes per day may potentially reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are markers of inflammation that might contribute to bone loss in these postmenopausal women,” said Damani.
Shereen Jegtvig, a nutritionist at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, said that people can put the findings of this study to work right now in helping to prevent future bone loss.
“Prunes are high in vitamin K and minerals like copper and magnesium, which are important for strong bones,” she explained. “They’re also rich in polyphenols and proanthocyanidins, which may work as antioxidants in the body and reduce inflammation.”
She suggests adding plums (prunes are simply dehydrated plums) to your daily menu, either as a snack or as an ingredient in recipes.
She does caution, however, that you should be careful if you aren’t used to eating prunes. Too many in one sitting can upset your digestive tract due to their high fiber and sorbitol content.
Not a fan of prunes or plums?
“Figs are high in magnesium and calcium,” said Jegtvig. “Sweet potatoes are high in magnesium and potassium and antioxidants as well.”
Jegtvig also urges people to remember that calcium and vitamin D can also help prevent osteoporosis.
She suggests dairy, nuts (including nut milks), and canned fish that have bones are good sources of calcium.
Kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, soybean, and other dried beans are high in calcium, too, she said.
“Vitamin D is a bit trickier to get into your diet,” said Jegtvig. “It’s something your body makes when your skin is exposed to UV light from the sun. But, fatty fish like salmon and tuna are high in vitamin D and some foods are fortified with vitamin D.”
If you don’t like any of these foods, she suggests taking vitamin D supplements during the wintertime when sunlight may be in short supply.
Dr. Nilanjana Bose, a rheumatology specialist with Lonestar Rheumatology in Houston, TX, said that, in addition to dietary measures, maintaining adequate vitamin D, and consuming anti-inflammatory foods like prunes, it is very important to lead an active life including weight-bearing exercises.
Activities like walking, jogging, or playing tennis, which force your body to work against gravity, trigger your bones to become stronger.
Bose further recommends monitoring your bone health with DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) scans.
DEXA scans use low levels of x-rays to measure your bone density.
Repeated scans can be used to monitor changes in your bone density over time.