When people think bone health, they automatically conjure up ideas of taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. Fewer might also have heard of the value of potassium and vitamin K too. But those are supplements. What about foods to help bones stay strong? Well besides milk, what else is there? Well, it turns out many foods can help bones stay strong and even help osteoporosis too. One food that is getting attention are prunes – yes really! Who knew there was research on prunes (dried plums) helping improve bone density? Let's look at the research on prunes and try to see why they might help your bones stay strong.
Why Bone Strength Is Important
Osteoporosis and osteopenia (“pre-osteoporosis”) is a huge problem worldwide. One reason for this is the populations of countries like America are getting older. People don't seem to be having babies like they used to. So, the amount of older people is starting to outnumber the younger people. This means disorders like osteoporosis is only going to become more widespread.
In the US, the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF.org) has estimated that 10.3% of Americans over age 50 has osteoporosis. They go on to say that 43.9% of people 50 and above have pre-osteoprossis (osteopenia). The odds have having a fractured bone increase after age 50. I'll point out that 50 years of age is not “old.”
At the same time, the intake of fruit is at its lowest points in both young (14-18 years) and older women (51 and above). These are critical for bone development and when we need bones to remain strong.
This is important because fruit contains more healthy nutrients than you can count! Fruit is as important as vegetables at preserving health. Adding to this is that bone development is greatest when we are younger. So limiting access of critical nutrients to the bones when we are younger, puts people at greater risk of fractures when we are older.
It's estimated that by the year 2025, the annual cost of fractures will cost the US health care system over $25 billion a year.
Men don't get off the hook when it comes to this either. Men get osteoporosis too. Unlike women, who may get bone density scans to alert them of problems, men usually don't. With us guys, the first sign we have osteoporosis often comes too late – it's after we break a bone.
To those who may not think fracturing a bone is a big deal, they are wrong. Those who suffer from the 300,000 hip fractures a year in the US have as much as an 8X increase risk of death in the following 3 months after the fracture. So, yes, people can die from a hip fracture.
Osteoporosis, low bone mineral density and osteopenia should be thought of as national medical emergencies. We need to start addressing this issue now otherwise the future drain on our health care system might be too much to handle.
Prunes And Bone Health
While calcium and vitamin D often grab the bone health spotlight, researchers have quietly been studying the effects of how prunes might help bones stay strong. A variety of studies ranging from test tube research to lab animal and human studies suggest prunes can both enhance the formation of bone and reduce bone breakdown.
The research seems to show that compounds in prunes alter the way bone forming cells (osteoblasts) and bone eating cells (osteoclasts) work. In other words, by improving the functioning of bone formation cells and reducing the action of bone eating cells, bone mineral density (BMD) is improved, thus making bones stronger. This has the potential to help reverse osteoporosis.
Want proof? Here you go…
Researchers in 2011 found that 3.5 oz (100 grams) of prunes slowed bone loss and improved bone density in 100 older women who were not getting hormone replacement therapy. This study lasted 1 year.
These same researchers also showed an even lower amount of prunes 1.7 oz (50 grams) was as effective at helping bone strength as was 100 grams. This study lasted 6 months and involved 48 older women with osteopenia and compared plum intake to a placebo. To put things in perspective even better, 50 grams is 5-6 dried plums per day.
While it will take larger and better studies to prove beyond a doubt, the evidence so far is tantalizing and says to me prunes are much more than just natures laxative.
Plums Nutrition Information
Plums contain many different vitamins and minerals as well as other compounds that might help bone health.
Here is a selection of some of the nutrition in 100 grams (3.5 oz) of plums:
|Protein 2.1g||Fiber 7.1g||Calcium 43mg|
|Magnesium 41mg||Phosphorous 69mg||Vitamin A 781 IU|
|Potassium 732mg||Folate 4ug||Vitamin K 59ug|
Obviously this isn't all the stuff in this fruit. I left out a lot but focused mostly on nutrients thought to be healthy to bones. For example,
- Vitamin K
have all been linked to stronger bones. Prunes have all of these. Take note that prunes also have a lot of potassium, a rising all star in helping maintain healthy blood pressure.
While vitamin K is often associated with blood clotting, it has been the subject of many studies showing it can also strengthen bones. Some “osteoporosis supplements” might even contain vitamin K for this reason.
While fiber doesn't get much attention for bone health, one of fibers little known benefits is reducing inflammation. By reducing chronic inflammation (which you can measure with the CRP blood test), fiber can also help keep bones strong.
In addition, plums contain compounds called polyphenols. While these colorful pigments are often considered antioxidants, they do many other things too including helping bones stay strong. Researchers in 2008 noted that the polyphenols in prunes not only lowered chronic inflammation, they also reduce the production of bone eating cells called osteoclasts. The fewer the osteoclasts, the less bone is broken down. This, in turn, leads to stronger bones.
Because foods contain so many compounds, I don't think it's possible pin down their benefits to any single nutrient. In other words, eat the food and don't worry about the individual ingredients.
Prune Juice And Bone Health
Remember dried plums are prunes which is also available as a juice. The studies I saw looked at dried plums and not prune juice. I didn't turn up anything specific on prune juice but that doesn't mean drinking it would not help bones too. It might since they do share many nutrients in common. But, until studies are done, it's difficult to know for sure. Prune juice tastes good, is pretty inexpensive and it's a favorite drink of Klingons too (could not resist the Star Trek reference!).
Prunes: It Does An Economy Good
Did you know the state of California produces 99% of the prunes in the US – and about 40% of the worldwide supply of this fruit? So, as you eat prunes for your bone health, you also help the US economy too. It's a win-win for the US .
Holistic Bone Health Solution
While prunes definitely have some interesting research, for comprehensive bone health, I think it takes more than just eating this fruit. In my opinion, the best way to keep your bones healthy and strong is by taking a holistic approach. This includes the following:
- Do resistance training exercises that target the chest, legs and back a few times a week
- Eat fruits (prunes too) and veggies when your young and throughout the life span
- Eat enough protein especially when you get older
- Get enough vitamin D – consider getting a vitamin D test too
- Don't smoke – it's linked to osteoporosis
- Don't drink alcohol or if you do, don't do it often
These are some of the high points. If you follow these basic osteoporosis prevention guidelines, you'll have a better chance of keeping your bones strong for as long as you live.