Kinesiology researcher to study effects of dried plums on bone health

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As women lose estrogen during menopause, they also lose bone mass. In an effort to investigate ways to reduce subsequent health conditions — like osteoporosis — a Penn State professor and her colleagues have received a grant to study the effects of dried plums on bone health and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

“Our goal is to determine if daily consumption of dried plums can help to maintain or increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women,” according to Mary Jane De Souza, professor of kinesiology and physiology and principal investigator for the project.

Researchers believe polyphenolic compounds, found in dried plums, are what may help lower the incidence of osteoporosis. Participants will include postmenopausal women aged 55 to 75.

“Targeting this age range will allow us to generalize our results to postmenopausal women with a low bone mass who may experience osteoporosis and a high risk for fracture,” De Souza said. “Furthermore, these women represent a primary age group targeted for dietary supplementation of dried plums.”

Approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and another 44 million have low bone density that could develop into osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

The foundation also states that one-in-two women, and up to one-in-four men will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis.

“These estimates bring to light the urgency for continued development and improvement in prevention strategies,” De Souza said.

Pharmacological therapies are effective in the treatment of bone loss, but can also have undesirable side effects and are a major concern for many women who need to consider therapeutic options when they have low bone mass. Alternatively, consumer interest in non-pharmacological options for preventing and treating bone loss, particularly dietary supplements, is on the rise, De Souza said.

To evaluate the effectiveness of dried plums as a dietary supplement, De Souza and colleagues will compare the effects on bone health of a diet rich in dried plums to a diet with no dried plums.

For 12 months, two groups of participants will eat six or 12 dried plums per day, and a control group will eat no dried plums. All participants will receive calcium and Vitamin D supplements for the duration of the study. Each study group will contain 63 women.

Women in the study will have their bone health measured every six months. Bone health measurements include density of bone, structure and geometry of bone, and strength of bone.

Once the study is completed, De Souza and colleagues will determine the effects of a year’s worth of dried plum consumption using three-dimensional bone imaging technology to quantify bone density, geometry and estimated strength, key factors for understanding osteoporosis and fracture risk. The study will also include detailed assessments of the polyphenolic chemicals in the dried plums to explore relationships between polyphenolic consumption and bone health.

“A significant outcome for bone health in this project would hopefully provide postmenopausal women at risk for osteoporosis the opportunity to choose dried plums to prevent bone osteoporosis and improve bone health,” De Souza said.

The research is being conducted in the Women’s Health and Exercise Laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology at Penn State under the direction of De Souza and Nancy Williams, head of the Department of Kinesiology. Connie Weaver, distinguished professor and head of the nutrition science department in the College of Health and Human Sciences at Purdue University, is also contributing to the research.

The California Dried Plum Board is funding this research.

Researchers are seeking participants for the study. For more information call 814-863-4488 or email the study group at driedplum@psu.edu.

Last Updated December 12, 2016