Osteoporosis, a condition that has symptoms of weak and brittle bones, often occurs in women after menopause because their ovaries are no longer producing certain hormones, such as estrogen, which play a role in rebuilding bone. In the first few years after menopause, women can lose 3-5 % of their bone mass each year. When the bones become fragile and porous, there is an increased risk of fractures, collapsed vertebrae, and back pain. Fractures are especially dangerous in the elderly. Osteoporosis is not limited to women, however. Men over the age of 65 are also at risk for bone loss. Over 8 million women and 2 million men suffer from osteoporosis in the US.
Researchers at Florida State University have found that eating prunes has a positive effect on bone density. A year-long study was conducted with two groups of women. One group ate 100 grams of dried plums every day, which is equal to about 10 prunes. The second group ate dried apples instead of the dried plums. Both groups took vitamin D and calcium supplements daily.
At the end of the study, bone density was measured in the spine and the ulna, one of the bones of the arm. When bone density measurements of the two groups were compared, it was found that the bone mineral density of group of women who ate the prunes was significantly higher than that of the group who ate the apples.
The ability of prunes to strengthen bones is a new and surprising discovery. How do prunes affect bone strength? During normal bone metabolism, bones are continually breaking down in a process known as resorption. At the same time, the bones are being reformed. When these two processes of breaking down and building up are balanced, bones maintain a healthy density. But if the rate of resorption is faster than the rate of reformation, then overall bone density decreases. Estrogen plays a role in these processes. When estrogen levels fall after menopause, the rate of bone resorption increases, and at the same time the rate of new bone formation decreases, resulting in an overall loss of bone mass. The beneficial effect of prunes is due to their ability to decrease the rate of resorption so less bone mass is lost.
Dr. Bahram H. Arjmandi, who led the group conducting the research, advises people to start eating prunes as a preventative measure before they start seeing any symptoms of osteoporosis. He suggests starting out with 2 or 3 a day, and gradually building up to 6 or 10. The prunes can be eaten in any form to get the benefits. For those who aren’t fond of just eating prunes on their own, they can be added to cereal or included in a wide range of recipes.