Prunes benefits include compounds that are known to enhance bone health such as resveratrol, ferulic acid, syringic acid, sulforaphane, anthocyanins, and polyphenols
A healthy skeleton is continually responsive to its internal and external environments. During growth years, bones elongate, accrue mass, and increase their hardness via mineralization. Change is uninterrupted throughout adulthood with many factors that influence gains or losses. Genetics, gender, ethnicity, diet, exercise, medications, natural compounds, diseases, and hormonal status all effect bone. But prunes benefits can help halt poor rates of bone accrual or rapid bone losses that can yield a compromised skeleton — one that is at risk.
Approximately half of your adult patient population will experience one or more fractures due to osteoporosis in their lifetime.1,2 There are many scenarios whereby bone losses outpace bone gains. For example, a post-menopausal woman3 vs. an anorexic teenager4 vs. vitamin D deficiency5 vs. chronic use of corticosteroid medications6. The cause, and proper treatments, for each of these is not the same.
Prunes benefits: healthy diet and bone metabolism
Diet plays a vital role in skeletal health.
Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” This is often stated but not nearly as often believed nor acted upon. There is one fruit in particular that may change your mind.
Prunes benefits include compounds that are known to enhance bone health. These include resveratrol, ferulic acid, syringic acid, sulforaphane, anthocyanins, and polyphenols.7,8 Collectively, they increase bone formation, decrease bone resorption, and increase trabecular microstructure.9 These outcomes all decrease the risk of fracture.
In looking through a reductionist lens, prunes also contain generous amounts of magnesium, potassium, boron, copper, and vitamin K1.9 Each of these play a positive role in bone metabolism.
Prunes are known for their laxative effect, sweet flavor, and for being an easy target of jokes. Prunes taste sweet yet they have a low glycemic index. Their “sugariness” is due to sorbitol.9 Prunes are a low calorie, natural sweetener.
When a new drug is being studied, investigations are performed as to the specific pathways and effects. Several research teams have pursued these types of experiments with prunes.
The specific bone effects are:
- Increase bone formation10,13 — This is unusual as nearly all of the currently available drugs act by decreasing bone resorption, not by increasing bone formation.
- Increase trabecular microstructure11,12 — This, too, is unusual. Typically bone quality declines over years. Prunes benefits include compounds that have have a unique capacity to benefit trabecular connectivity.
- Decrease osteoclastogenesis12 — Fewer osteoclasts mean less bone resorption. There is only one currently available drug that both enhance bone formation and decrease bone resorption.
- Decrease RANKL (receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa-Β liga)14 — RANKL leads to increases in bone resorption. Inhibiting RANKL is exactly the mechanism by which the prescription drug, Prolia, works.
The above prunes benefits are active in both men and women. Traditionally, osteoporosis was viewed as a disease affecting women, however, the numbers of fractures have been, and are, increasing in men.14,15
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the name “dried plums” for prunes in 2001 after research showed that consumers responded to the term better than prunes (FDA).
- Agriculturist brothers Louis and Pierre Pellier brought the Petite d’Agen plum from France to California during the Gold Rush and grafted it onto wild American plum stock (IFT.org). California, with approximately 46,000 acres of prune plum trees, primarily in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, produces 99% of the U.S. supply of prunes and 40% of the world’s supply (IFT.org).
- Three pounds of fresh fruit yield one pound dried prunes.
- Results of a clinical trial discovered dried plums are effective than psyllium for mild to moderate constipation (Attaluri et al. 2011).
- Prunes benefits include high nutrient counts, containing more than 15 different vitamins and minerals, in addition to fiber and antioxidants (Healthline.com).
- Studies have shown that regular consumption of prunes significantly lower blood pressure levels, total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol (Healthline.com).
How much for improved bone health?
Researchers used 100 grams or 10-11 prunes per day.10,13,16,17 Given the known laxative effects, some patients may consider this dosage to be an edict that they live in a pasture. The way to overcome this is to begin with two prunes per day and slowly increase the number until reaching bowel tolerance.
Osteoporosis is a widespread and multifactorial disease. Steps need to be taken to inventory bone health (via a DXA test), understand the reason or reasons for your individual patient’s bone losses, and prescribe a program to enhance their skeletal health.
Prunes are low risk, high benefit when considering skeletal health. They should never be considered to be a complete treatment plan but prunes benefits should be included in the overall strategy for preventing or treating osteoporosis.
ALAN COOK, DC, has been in practice since 1989 and is currently working with EasyWebCE, an on-line provider of chiropractic continuing education, and can be reached at easywebce.com.