Dr's Casebook: Prunes can help protect the bone health of older women

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Osteoporosis or thinning of the bones is a condition in which the bones become weaker and more brittle, and which may makes fractures more likely.

Dr Keith Souter writes: The condition is most common in women over the age of 50. Indeed, worldwide it affects more than two hundred million women and causes over nine million fractures a year.

Increasing the calcium and vitamin D in the diet is known to help reduce the risk, and many women of menopausal years take mineral and vitamin supplements as a preventive.

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Women who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis may also be prescribed medication to treat the condition.

Prunes may protect bones in older women. Photo: AdobePrunes may protect bones in older women. Photo: Adobe
Prunes may protect bones in older women. Photo: Adobe

Recent research just published in the journal Advances in Nutrition suggests that prunes in the diet may be good for bone health and may help protect against further bone loss or even prevent it occurring.

It is thought that they can be helpful because they are rich in vitamin K, phenolic acid, flavonoids, carotenoids and fibre, all of which have the ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which contribute to bone loss.

Up until the age of about 40 there is a balance between cells that lay down new bone and cells that remove old bone cells and calcium.

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After the menopause the cells that remove bone are more active than those that lay down new. So, any reduction in turnover can only be beneficial.

The researchers analysed 16 preclinical studies in rodents, ten preclinical studies in people and two clinical trials. Across all of the studies they found evidence that eating prunes helped reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

More specifically, they found that eating 100 grams of prunes every day, which amounts to about ten prunes, improved bone mineral density in the forearm and the lower spine. There was a marked difference when this was taken for six months in comparison to women who did not eat prunes. They also found evidence that there was a reduction in bone cell turnover.

The researchers suggest that the prunes may trigger a change in the bowel microflora that then reduces inflammation in the colon.

Longer trials are planned, but this seems such a simple thing to add to the diet. And since calcium supplements have a tendency to constipate, the extra fibre may counteract that.