A Case for Prunes

June 20, 2013 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

For whatever reason, prunes are often viewed in a different light than other dried fruits. These days, dried apricots, cranberries and mangos are commonly added to desserts or snacked on alone or as part of trail mix. But, dried plums or prunes might as well be shelved next to laxatives and psyllium fiber in the pharmacy section of supermarkets. And, while it’s true that prunes are an effective way of addressing constipation, they’re also much, much more than that.

Before I delve into the science supporting the use of prunes, allow me to clarify a few key points. First, prunes have been found more effective than other natural constipation aids including psyllium – popularly sold as Metamucil. Having said that, it should be noted that these two regularity aids function in different ways and can be used in conjunction with one another. For the most part, prunes alleviate constipation by drawing and retaining more water in the colon. Psyllium is a bulking agent which mixes with water from your diet to add volume and subsequently encourages bowel movements. A final issue to consider when deciding between prunes and psyllium is whether or not you tolerate sorbitol well. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is abundant in prunes and frequently contained in diabetic and/or sugar-free candies. Some individuals, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome, are advised to avoid this class or poorly-absorbed carbohydrate because it can exacerbate digestive symptoms.

Over the past few decades, a slow but steady stream of positive studies have been published regarding the diverse health benefits of prunes. In May of 2013, the Journal of Nutrition reported that women who ate plenty of garlic and dried fruits, including prunes, demonstrated a lower risk of spontaneous preterm birth. In September 2011, the British Journal of Nutrition documented a trial showing that 100 grams/day or 10 to 12 dried plums successfully suppressed bone turnover in osteopenic, postmenopausal women. Other compelling research reveals that eating prunes regularly: a) improves liver function; b) increases feelings of satiety, reduces snacking and overall caloric intake; c) lowers blood pressure in those with pre-hypertension.

Even if you don’t require the typical support provided by prunes, you still might consider adding them to your diet. Prunes provide a good source of antioxidant phytochemicals, potassium, soluble fiber and Vitamin K. Many people would benefit from consuming more of these dietary components. Still not sold? In an attempt to encourage you to give prunes a try, here’s a delicious and simple prune recipe. In double boiler or microwave safe bowl, melt a handful of dark chocolate chips. Take several or more organic prunes and slice them length wise, down the middle. Add some salted almond butter to the interior of the prune halves and then reassemble to make a stuffed, whole prune. Dip the stuffed prunes in the melted chocolate and place on a parchment paper lined dish. Allow the chocolate covered prunes to set in the refrigerator and enjoy!

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Randomised Clinical Trial: Dried Plums vs. Psyllium for Constipation (link)

Study 2 - Intake of Garlic and Dried Fruits Is Associated with Lower Risk (link)

Study 3 - Comparative Effects of Dried Plum and Dried Apple on Bone in (link)

Study 4 – Report: Prunes and Liver Function: A Clinical Trial (link)

Study 5 - Short-Term Effects of a Snack Including Dried Prunes on Energy Intake (link)

Study 6 - Type of Snack Influences Satiety Responses in Adult Women (link)

Study 7 - Use of Prunes as a Control of Hypertension (link)

Study 8 – Micronutrient Mineral & Folate Content of Australian & Imported Dried (link)

Study 9 - Vitamin K Content of Nuts and Fruits in the US Diet (link)

Study 10 - Characterization and Antioxidative Properties of Oligomeric (link)

Prunes Support Bone Health in Female and Male Rats


Source: J Nutr. 2010 Oct;140(10):1781-7. (link)

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Posted in Bone and Joint Health, Food and Drink, Nutrition

12 Comments & Updates to “A Case for Prunes”

  1. Lauren Says:

    I know from experience that prunes are the BEST remedy for constipation. I’ve tried several natural remedies, but nothing helped as much. I recommend eating prunes for breakfast in your oatmeal – add a little cinnamon for a delicious result!

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience and recipe, Lauren!

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Frank Says:

    Lauren, good tip on adding them to oatmeal. Upon recommendation from my doctor, I bought some prune juice and found it terribly difficult to drink. I’ve since just been buying regular prunes and can tolerate them much more easily than the juice. Your oatmeal idea may just be the thing to get me to eat them everyday! Thanks!

  4. JP Says:

    An update from the scientific literature:

    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9281940&fileId=S0007114514000671

    Br J Nutr. 2014 Jul;112(1):55-60. doi: 10.1017/S0007114514000671. Epub 2014 Apr 29.

    The effect of dried plum on serum levels of receptor activator of NF-κB ligand, osteoprotegerin and sclerostin in osteopenic postmenopausal women: a randomised controlled trial.

    Hooshmand S1, Brisco JR1, Arjmandi BH2.

    Although several studies have confirmed the bone-protective properties of dried plum, its exact mechanisms of action remain unclear. Recent research has shown that osteocytes may control bone formation via the production of sclerostin and bone resorption via the receptor activator of NF-κB ligand (RANKL) and its inhibitor osteoprotegerin (OPG). To investigate the mechanism of action of dried plum in reversing bone loss, we measured serum levels of RANKL, OPG and sclerostin in osteopenic postmenopausal women (n 160). Participants were randomly assigned to the treatment group of either 100 g dried plum/d or 75 g dried apple/d (comparative control) for 1 year. All participants received 500 mg Ca plus 400 IU (10 μg) vitamin D daily. Bone mineral densities (BMD) of the lumbar spine, forearm, hip and whole body were assessed at baseline and at the end of the study using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Blood samples were collected at baseline and after 12 months to assess bone biomarkers. Dried plum significantly increased the BMD of the ulna and spine in comparison with the control group. In comparison with corresponding baseline values, dried plum increased the RANKL levels by only +1·99 v. +18·33 % and increased the OPG levels by +4·87 v. – 2·15 % in the control group. Serum sclerostin levels were reduced by – 1·12 % in the dried plum group v. +3·78 % in the control group. Although percentage changes did not reach statistical significance (P≤ 0·05), these preliminary data may indicate that the positive effects of dried plum on bone are in part due to the suppression of RANKL production, the promotion of OPG and the inhibition of sclerostin.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. JP Says:

    Update: Prunes vs. psyllium …

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apt.12913/abstract

    Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Oct;40(7):750-8.

    Systematic review: the effect of prunes on gastrointestinal function.

    BACKGROUND: Prunes (dried plums) are high in fibre and are perceived to promote healthy gastrointestinal (GI) function.

    AIM: To assess the effect of prunes on GI function through a systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

    METHODS: Sixteen electronic databases were searched, a hand search was performed and key opinion leaders were contacted. RCTs investigating the effect of prunes on GI function were included. Two reviewers independently screened relevant articles, extracted data and assessed risk of bias.

    RESULTS: Four trials met the inclusion criteria, one in constipation and three in non-constipated subjects. In constipation, 3 weeks of prune consumption (100 g/day) improved stool frequency (3.5 vs. 2.8 CSBM per week, P = 0.006) and stool consistency (3.2 vs. 2.8 on Bristol stool form scale, P = 0.02) compared with psyllium (22 g/day). In non-constipated subjects, prunes softened stool consistency in one trial and increased stool weight (628 g vs. 514 g/72 h wet weight, P = 0.001) in another trial, compared with control. No trials found differences in GI symptoms between prunes and comparator. Meta-analysis was not appropriate due to heterogeneity in populations and methods. Two of the trials were limited by unclear risk of bias.

    CONCLUSIONS: In constipation, prunes appear superior to psyllium for improving stool frequency and consistency, however, the evidence for other outcomes and the effects in non-constipated subjects is weak. Although prunes may be a promising intervention for the management of constipation and increasing stool weight, this needs to be confirmed by further rigorous research.

    Be well!

    JP

  6. JP Says:

    Updated 07/27/15:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0309174014005026

    Meat Sci. 2015 Apr;102:41-8.

    The functionality of plum ingredients in meat products: a review.
    Jarvis N1, O’Bryan CA1, Ricke SC1, Crandall PG2.

    Dried plums (prunes) have been marketed to consumers for consumption directly from the package as a convenient snack and have been reported to have broad health benefits. Only recently have fractionated, dried plum ingredients been investigated for their functionality in food and feed products. Dried plum puree, dried plum fiber, dried plum powder, dried plum concentrate, and fresh plum concentrate have been investigated to date. They have been evaluated as fat replacers in baked goods, antioxidants in meat formulations, phosphate replacers in chicken marinades, and antimicrobials in food systems. Overall, dried plum products have been shown to be effective at reducing lipid oxidation and show promise as antimicrobials.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. JP Says:

    Updated 09/28/15:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150925131420.htm

    “Through our research, we were able to show that dried plums promote retention of beneficial bacteria throughout the colon, and by doing so they may reduce the risk of colon cancer,” said Dr. Nancy Turner, Texas A&M AgriLife Research professor in the nutrition and food science department of Texas A&M University, College Station.

    Be well!

    JP

  8. JP Says:

    Updated 04/18/16:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4750446/

    Sci Rep. 2016 Feb 11;6:21343.

    Dried plum diet protects from bone loss caused by ionizing radiation.

    Bone loss caused by ionizing radiation is a potential health concern for radiotherapy patients, radiation workers and astronauts. In animal studies, exposure to ionizing radiation increases oxidative damage in skeletal tissues, and results in an imbalance in bone remodeling initiated by increased bone-resorbing osteoclasts. Therefore, we evaluated various candidate interventions with antioxidant or anti-inflammatory activities (antioxidant cocktail, dihydrolipoic acid, ibuprofen, dried plum) both for their ability to blunt the expression of resorption-related genes in marrow cells after irradiation with either gamma rays (photons, 2 Gy) or simulated space radiation (protons and heavy ions, 1 Gy) and to prevent bone loss. Dried plum was most effective in reducing the expression of genes related to bone resorption (Nfe2l2, Rankl, Mcp1, Opg, TNF-α) and also preventing later cancellous bone decrements caused by irradiation with either photons or heavy ions. Thus, dietary supplementation with DP may prevent the skeletal effects of radiation exposures either in space or on Earth.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. JP Says:

    Updated 04/18/16:

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00198-016-3524-8

    Osteoporos Int. 2016 Feb 22.

    The effect of two doses of dried plum on bone density and bone biomarkers in osteopenic postmenopausal women: a randomized, controlled trial.

    Daily consumption of 50 g of dried plum (equivalent to 5-6 dried plums) for 6 months may be as effective as 100 g of dried plum in preventing bone loss in older, osteopenic postmenopausal women. To some extent, these results may be attributed to the inhibition of bone resorption with the concurrent maintenance of bone formation.

    INTRODUCTION: The objective of our current study was to examine the possible dose-dependent effects of dried plum in preventing bone loss in older osteopenic postmenopausal women.

    METHODS: Forty-eight osteopenic women (65-79 years old) were randomly assigned into one of three treatment groups for 6 months: (1) 50 g of dried plum; (2) 100 g of dried plum; and (3) control. Total body, hip, and lumbar bone mineral density (BMD) were evaluated at baseline and 6 months using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Blood biomarkers including bone-specific alkaline phosphatase (BAP), tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP-5b), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and sclerostin were measured at baseline, 3 months, and 6 months. Osteoprotegerin (OPG), receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa-B ligand (RANKL), calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D were measured at baseline and 6 months.

    RESULTS: Both doses of dried plum were able to prevent the loss of total body BMD compared with that of the control group (P < 0.05). TRAP-5b, a marker of bone resorption, decreased at 3 months and this was sustained at 6 months in both 50 and 100 g dried plum groups (P < 0.01 and P < 0.04, respectively). Although there were no significant changes in BAP for either of the dried plum groups, the BAP/TRAP-5b ratio was significantly (P < 0.05) greater at 6 months in both dried plum groups whereas there were no changes in the control group.

    CONCLUSIONS: These results confirm the ability of dried plum to prevent the loss of total body BMD in older osteopenic postmenopausal women and suggest that a lower dose of dried plum (i.e., 50 g) may be as effective as 100 g of dried plum in preventing bone loss in older, osteopenic postmenopausal women. This may be due, in part, to the ability of dried plums to inhibit bone resorption.

    Be well!

    JP

  10. JP Says:

    Updated 04/18/16:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.5581/abstract

    Phytother Res. 2016 Mar 16.

    A Systematic Review on the Health Effects of Plums (Prunus domestica and Prunus salicina).

    In recent times, plums have been described as foods with health-promoting properties. Research on the health effects of plum continue to show promising results on its antiinflammatory, antioxidant and memory-improving characteristics. The increased interest in plum research has been attributed to its high phenolic content, mostly the anthocyanins, which are known to be natural antioxidants. A systematic review of literature was carried out to summarize the available evidence on the impact of plums (Prunus species; domestica and salicina) on disease risk factors and health outcomes. A number of databases were searched according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines for relevant studies on plum health effects in vitro, animal studies and clinical trials. A total of 73 relevant peer-reviewed journal articles were included in this review. The level of evidence remains low. Of the 25 human studies, 6 were confirmatory studies of moderate quality, while 19 were exploratory. Plums have been shown to possess antioxidant and antiallergic properties, and consumption is associated with improved cognitive function, bone health parameters and cardiovascular risk factors. Most of the human trials used the dried version of plums rather than fresh fruit, thus limiting translation to dietary messages of the positioning of plums in a healthy diet. Evidence on the health effect of plums has not been extensively studied, and the available evidence needs further confirmation.

    Be well!

    JP

  11. JP Says:

    Updated 04/20/17:

    http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/4/401/htm

    Nutrients. 2017 Apr 19;9(4).

    Dried Plums, Prunes and Bone Health: A Comprehensive Review.

    The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advocate for increasing fruit intake and replacing energy-dense foods with those that are nutrient-dense. Nutrition across the lifespan is pivotal for the healthy development and maintenance of bone. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that over half of Americans age 50+ have either osteoporosis or low bone mass. Dried plums, also commonly referred to as prunes, have a unique nutrient and dietary bioactive profile and are suggested to exert beneficial effects on bone. To further elucidate and summarize the potential mechanisms and effects of dried plums on bone health, a comprehensive review of the scientific literature was conducted. The PubMed database was searched through 24 January 2017 for all cell, animal, population and clinical studies that examined the effects of dried plums and/or extracts of the former on markers of bone health. Twenty-four studies were included in the review and summarized in table form. The beneficial effects of dried plums on bone health may be in part due to the variety of phenolics present in the fruit. Animal and cell studies suggest that dried plums and/or their extracts enhance bone formation and inhibit bone resorption through their actions on cell signaling pathways that influence osteoblast and osteoclast differentiation. These studies are consistent with clinical studies that show that dried plums may exert beneficial effects on bone mineral density (BMD). Long-term prospective cohort studies using fractures and BMD as primary endpoints are needed to confirm the effects of smaller clinical, animal and mechanistic studies. Clinical and prospective cohort studies in men are also needed, since they represent roughly 29% of fractures, and likewise, diverse race and ethnic groups. No adverse effects were noted among any of the studies included in this comprehensive review. While the data are not completely consistent, this review suggests that postmenopausal women may safely consume dried plums as part of their fruit intake recommendations given their potential to have protective effects on bone loss.

    Be well!

    JP

  12. JP Says:

    Updated 04/27/17:

    http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/jmf.2016.0158

    J Med Food. 2017 Apr 26.

    Dried Plum Ingestion Increases the Osteoblastogenic Capacity of Human Serum.

    In cell culture studies, dried plum (Prunus domestica L.) polyphenols increased osteoblast alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity, mineralized nodule formation, and the expression of the bone marker genes runt-related transcription factor 2 (RUNX2) and osterix. The purpose of this study was to determine whether human serum collected 1 and 2 h after dried plum ingestion influenced osteoblast cell activity and gene expression. Five healthy women ingested 100 g of dried plum, and serum samples were collected at baseline (before dried plum ingestion) and 1 and 2 h postingestion of dried plum. MC3T3-E1 osteoblast cells were treated (2% of medium) with these serum samples for 3 or 9 days. Intracellular and extracellular ALP activities were significantly increased after 3 or 9 days of treatment with serum both postingestion time points, with no effect seen in baseline samples. Also, serum obtained 1 and 2 h postingestion significantly increased the mRNA expression of bone markers RUNX2 and connexin43 (CX43) after both 3 and 9 days of incubation periods. Finally, serum obtained 1 and 2 h postingestion increased the mRNA expression of β-catenin after 9 days of incubation. We conclude that osteoblast activity and function are increased by dried plum ingestion, which may, in part, explain its beneficial effects on bone health.

    Be well!

    JP

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