As a nutritional therapist, I am always interested in new dietary approaches to protect our health as we age. I was particularly interested to read about a recent study which found dried plums to be of significant benefit in supporting bone health.
The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that eating dried plums increased bone formation in postmenopausal women.
Although bone is often thought of as inert, it is in fact a ‘living structure’, constantly being broken down and rebuilt. This is a process known as ‘bone turnover’. If bone is broken down more quickly than it is remade, then osteoporosis can result. This condition is of particular concern to postmenopausal women who produce less of the bone-protecting hormone oestrogen.
The bone-thinning disease, osteoporosis, is in fact a major health concern in the UK. In the over-50s, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men are affected.
The study, conducted by Professor Bahram H. Arjmandi, tested the effects of daily consumption of 100g dried plums on the bone density of 55 postmenopausal women over a 12 month period. A control group were given 100g dried apples.
Bone health in the women was measured at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months, by measuring markers of bone turnover in the blood. X-rays were also used at these intervals to assess bone mineral density.
Over the 12-month period, dried plums resulted in increased bone density of both the ulna (a bone in the forearm) and the spine. No such effect was seen in the group taking the dried apple.
Professor Arjamandi reasons that the special phenolic compounds in dried plums increase levels of a hormone linked to bone formation. These compounds also help to prevent bone from being broken down. Dried plums, or prunes, are also high in antioxidants and provide essential nutrients for bone health such as potassium, boron and copper.
Introducing dried plums into the daily diet may therefore be a positive step in the prevention of osteoporosis. “Don’t wait until you get a fracture or you are diagnosed with osteoporosis and have to have prescribed medicine,” Arjmandi suggests, “People could start eating two to three dried plums per day and increase gradually to perhaps six to ten per day. Prunes can be eaten in all forms and can be included in a variety of recipes.”
Dried fruits certainly offer a variety of health benefits, as they are higher in fibre and phenols, and are more nutrient-dense, than fresh fruit. For those interested in maintaining or improving their bone health, this initial research suggests that introducing prunes in particular to the diet could be a positive step.
Written by Nadia Mason
1. Shirin Hooshmand, Sheau C. Chai, Raz L. Saadat, Mark E. Payton, Kenneth Brummel-Smith, Bahram H. Arjmandi.Comparative effects of dried plum and dried apple on bone in postmenopausal women. British Journal of Nutrition, 2011; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S000711451100119X
2. Image courtesy of Just4you.