Dried plums could protect against bone loss caused by ionizing radiation, according to new research.
Study coauthor Dr. Nancy Turner, of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Texas A&M University, and colleagues say their findings may have important implications for individuals heavily exposed to ionizing radiation.
These include cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy, astronauts, radiation workers and victims of nuclear accidents.
“Bone loss caused by ionizing radiation is a potential health concern for those in occupations or in situations that expose them to radiation,” Dr. Turner explains.
“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.”
In humans, bone loss can lead to osteoporosis – a disease in which the bones become more brittle, fragile and more vulnerable to breakage. It is estimated that osteoporosis is responsible for more than 8.9 million fractures worldwide each year.
For the study, the researchers set out to investigate a number of strategies that they believed could tackle the underlying mechanisms that contribute to ionizing radiation-related bone damage, such as radiation-induced oxidative stress.
Dried plums reduced gene expression linked to bone breakdown
The team tested a number of different antioxidant and anti-inflammatory interventions on mice that were exposed to ionizing radiation, assessing the effects the interventions had on the expression of genes linked to the breakdown of bone, as well as their effects on bone loss.
The interventions included a cocktail consisting of five different antioxidants (ascorbic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, L-selenomethionine, dihydrolipoic acid and vitamin E), dihydrolipoic acid, ibuprofen and dried plum.
The team found that dried plum was most effective for reducing expression of the genes Nfe2l2, Rankl, Mcp1, Opg and TNF-α, which are related to the breakdown of bone. Dried plum was also most effective for preventing later bone loss induced by ionizing radiation.
While the researchers are unable to explain the exact reasons why dried plums appear to protect bones from damage caused by ionizing radiation, they note that the fruit contains a number of polyphenols – including gallic acid, caffeoyl-quinic acids, coumaric acid and rutin – that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
“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,” says Dr. Turner, adding:
“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.”