Dried plums, previously commonly known as prunes, can protect bone loss resulting from radiation exposure, says a study published in Scientific Reports.
Reduced bone density and osteoporosis are major health problems that affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and the risk increases as people age. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 54 million Americans age 50 and older are affected by the conditions.
Bone density is affected by radiation, including radiation from medical procedures.
"Bone loss caused by ionizing radiation is a potential health concern for those in occupations or in situations that expose them to radiation," said Dr. Nancy Turner of Texas A&M AgriLife Research in College Station.
"This is relevant to not only astronauts in space, but also cancer patients, those undergoing radiotherapy, radiation workers and victims of nuclear accidents."
Radiation exposure increases oxidative damage in bone tissue and interferes with the process of the body absorbing mature bone tissue and forming new bone, causing "spongy" bones.
"The changes in remodeling activity caused by exposure to radiation can lead to impaired skeletal integrity and fragility both in animals and human radiotherapy patients," Turner said.
Researchers evaluated four methods of treatment, all of which had antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties: an antioxidant cocktail; dihydrolipoic acid (a form of lipoic acid); ibuprofen; and dried plum, to evaluate their ability to prevent bone loss and to dull the effect that radiation has on bone marrow cells that lead to the breakdown of bone.
Of all of the treatments tested, Turner says dried plum was most effective.
"Dried plums contain biologically active components that may provide effective interventions for loss of structural integrity caused by radiotherapy or unavoidable exposure to space radiation incurred over long-duration spaceflight," she said.
"From this study, we can conclude that inclusion of dried plums in the diet may prevent the skeletal effects of radiation exposures either in space or here on Earth."
Turner noted purified dried plums contain bioactive compounds, including polyphenols that are known for their high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Other institutions involved in the study were the Bone and Signaling Laboratory of NASA's Ames Research Center, the department of radiation oncology at the University of California-Irvine, and the division of endocrinology at the University of California-San Francisco.
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