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Can Prunes Reverse Bone Loss?

Several studies suggest that eating prunes every day could help prevent or even reverse bone loss and osteoporosis. Here's what you need to know about prunes and bone health.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
December 13, 2016
Episode #409

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Eleanor writes:

“Can you comment on the benefits of prunes to stimulate bone growth? There are a lot of sites promoting prunes as a scientifically proven way to ward off osteoporosis. I’d love it if you would give these claims a critical look.”

There has been quite a bit of research done on dried plums (aka prunes) and their effects on bone health. Some of the results have been quite impressive. One study, for example, found that subjects who had already experienced substantial bone loss were able to completely reverse these losses by eating prunes every day! Others show that eating prunes can help prevent the bone loss from occurring in the first place.

The only problem is that these studies were all done in mice and involved eating prunes as 25% of the entire diet.  I’ll just give you a moment to contemplate the potential impact of that.

Can Prunes Prevent Bone Loss in Humans?

There have also been a few trials involving actual humans. One compared the effects of eating 100 grams of prunes with 75 grams of dried apples on bone mass in women who were post menopausal. The study went on for one year, during which both groups also took calcium and vitamin D supplements. Both groups experienced similar increases in the bone density of their hips and thigh bones; the group eating the prunes had slightly better results in their spines and forearms. While the difference at those two sites was statistically significant, I’m not sure it was all that meaningful.  

Unfortunately, the study did not include a group that just took calcium and vitamin D without eating any dried fruit. That makes it hard to say whether either the prunes or the dried apples offered any substantial benefit above and beyond the supplements.

A hundred grams of prunes, by the way is about 12 prunes, which amounts to about 240 calories. The women in this study did not experience any significant weight gain over the course of the year.  Still, if that sounds like more prunes than you care to eat every day, a subsequent study found that eating half that many prunes each day works just about as well as eating a full 100 grams. Again, however, the positive effect—while statistically significant—was modest.

The most recent human study asked whether eating prunes would enhance the positive effect of resistance or weight training on bone mineral density. It didn’t.

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