How Prunes Outdo Calcium in Protecting Our Bones

Imagine this: you’re on a gameshow and the host has prunes in one hand and a calcium supplement in the other. The question is, “Which has the greater benefit for bone health?” You’d choose the calcium supplement, right? Think again!

For years, calcium has been touted as the key nutrient for healthy and strong bones. Build healthy bones? Calcium. Prevent fractures? Calcium. As a building block of bone, it makes sense. But while research shows that calcium helps prevent bone loss, it doesn’t significantly build back bone density, and it doesn’t always prevent fractures or osteoporosis.1,2

Biology 101 refresher: Our bones are naturally porous but as we age, our bone mass density decreases. This leaves us prone to fractures and bone diseases like osteoporosis. We might think this is a problem we can ignore until old-age but our bone mass peaks in our 20’s! And it’s all downhill from there, so they say… 

So is there anything that rebuilds bone density? 

In 2011, a new discovery flipped our understanding of bone health on its head. Researchers from Florida gave 236 post-menopausal women the standard calcium supplement plus either a daily serving of prunes (also called dried plums) or dried apple. After three months, the prunes blew the researchers away! Not only did the added prunes prevent bone loss, they significantly increased bone mineral density.3 New research has confirmed that just 5-6 prunes can do what calcium supplements can’t do alone – build back density and help reverse bone fragility.4,5

But how do prunes do it?

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact beneficial nutrient in prunes because our body doesn’t use nutrients in isolation. Our bones need a lot more than just calcium to stay healthy. They are a living tissue and are made up of a complex structure of a range of different minerals beyond calcium. That’s where prunes come in. Prunes are a great source of calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, boron and more! Researchers suspect that boron from prunes (about 1.1mg/5 prunes) is key because boron can help stimulate bone growth.6

Key Takeaway! 

Don’t be satisfied with simply preventing further bone density loss. Prunes showed us that we can do better than that for our health. We can increase bone density long after our peak bone mass. We just need to give our body a lot more than calcium.  In addition to another key bone nutrients like Vitamin D, consider your mineral intake beyond calcium. Lifestyle factors like exercise (age-appropriate of course), smoking, alcohol, caffeine and others are also essential pillars in maintaining bone growth.7

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6957983/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4784773/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21736808/
  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00198-016-3524-8
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452226/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3678698/
  7. https://www.ibji.com/blog/rheumatology-autoimmune-care/osteoporosis-prevention-can-simple-lifestyle-changes-decrease-risk-of-osteoporosis/
Rachel

Rachel Erwin, Nutritionist & Content Writer

Rachel is a Nutritionist with a BSc in Biology and Global Health from the University of Toronto, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Human Nutrition from the University of Ulster. She has counselled and educated clients in Hong Kong, whose health goals ranged from weight loss to detox and hormone balancing. Her love of writing led her to complete ‘Writing in the Sciences’, offered by Stanford University, and since then she has contributed several evidence-based health articles to various publications.

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