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Breaking Down Osteoporosis

High Fat A Risk—Prunes A Possible Reward

Osteoporosis causes and treatments

By John Salak –

Osteoporosis is serious business that affects perhaps 15 percent of Americans, putting them at risk for chronic pain and weakened bones that can result in fractures and reduced flexibility and mobility. It attacks women much more frequently than men, making them four times more likely to have osteoporosis, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The disease also becomes more threatening with age. In fact, after age 50 perhaps 50 percent of women and 25 percent of men will have an osteoporosis-related fracture.

Given its disproportional impact, much of the osteoporosis research and treatment focus to date has been on women. Nonetheless, millions of men have osteoporosis or are in the process of developing it. There are a variety of reasons people develop the problem, including genetics, bone structure and body weight, family history and even conditions like an overactive thyroid, hormone treatments, Celiac disease and blood diseases, among other reasons.

The Endocrine Society now warns that men with high levels of body fat are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis and break a bone than those with lower body fat levels. In an unusual twist, the findings, developed by the University of Chicago, are somewhat at odds with traditional thinking. The report’s summary notes that healthcare providers often assume people with higher body weight have high bone density, putting them at lower risk for fractures. It also means these patients are less likely to be screened for osteoporosis.


“We found that higher fat mass was related to lower bone density and these trends were stronger in men than women,” noted Dr. Rajesh K. Jain of The University of Chicago. “Our research suggests that the effect of body weight depends on a person’s makeup of lean and fat mass and that high body weight alone is not a guarantee against osteoporosis.” The study’s results were based on an examination of data from over 10,000 patients under 60 years old. It found an unmistakable and strong association between lean mass and bone mineral density in both men and women.

The findings open a new way of looking for at-risk individuals. “Health care providers should consider osteoporosis screening for patients with high body weight, especially if they have other risk factors like older age, previous fracture, family history or steroid use,” Jain suggested. The Endocrine Society wasn’t the only group breaking news on osteoporosis causes and treatments. New research out of The Pennsylvania State University suggested that prunes can help prevent or delay bone loss in postmenopausal women.

“In postmenopausal women, lower levels of estrogen can trigger a rise of oxidative stress and inflammation, increasing the risk of weakening bones that may lead to fractures,” noted Connie Rogers, associate professor at The Pennsylvania State University. “Incorporating prunes into the diet may help protect bones by slowing or reversing this process.” The Pennsylvania State University findings align themselves with the growing interest in finding alternative ways to treat osteoporosis through conditioning and nutrition rather than simply medication.

“Fruits and vegetables that are rich in bioactive compounds such as phenolic acid, flavonoids and carotenoids can potentially help protect against osteoporosis, with prunes, in particular, gaining attention in previous research,” reported Mary Jane De Souza, a Pennsylvania State professor of kinesiology and physiology. Before a person reaches 40, bones maintain their health by producing new cells and discarding old ones. After 40 it becomes more difficult to generate enough new cells to replace the old ones, which is usually the result of issues such as inflammation and oxidative stress. These issues are caused when the body’s free radicals and antioxidants are out of balance.

Prunes with their nutritional benefits that include minerals, vitamin K, phenolic compounds and dietary fiber can help counteract some of these effects. As part of its research, The Pennsylvania State University team conducted clinical trials that found that eating about 10 prunes a day for a year improved bone mineral density in the forearm and lower spine in women, while also decreasing signs of bone turnover. Eating about six prunes daily for six months prevented loss of total bone mineral density and decreased TRAP-5b—a marker of bone resorption—compared to women who didn’t eat prunes. “Taken together, evidence from in vitro, preclinical studies, and limited clinical studies suggest prunes may help to reduce bone loss,” Rogers said. “This may be due to altered bone turnover and by inhibiting inflammation and suppressing markers of oxidative stress.”




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