You may associate dried plums—better known as prunes—as foodstuff for your grandparents. But it turns out they can help reduce your risk for colon cancer, according to research from Texas A&M University and the University of North Carolina.
The study—which, in full disclosure, was funded by the California Dried Plum Board—found that a diet containing dried plums helps retain good bacteria in the colons of rats. "Dried plums contain phenolic compounds, which have multiple effects on our health, including their ability to serve as antioxidants that can neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals that can damage our DNA,” writes study author Nancy Turner. Knowing this, researchers used a well-established rat model of colon cancer to explore whether dried plums have any cancer-preventing capabilities.
The researchers fed one group of rats a diet containing dried plums, and another group a control diet, both of which were matched for total calories and macronutrient composition to make sure any diet-related effect would be attributed to compounds found in the dried plums. Then researchers examined the rats’ intestinal contents and colon tissue.
Researchers found that rats on the prune diet had significantly reduced numbers of "aberrant crypts" compared to control rats. "These aberrant crypt foci are one of the earliest observable pre-cancerous lesions and are often considered to be a strong indicator for cancer development," says study researcher Derek Seide.
Of course, human studies are needed to see if adding prunes to an everyday diet would have similar results. The researchers believe regularly eating prunes (though they don’t specify how many) may be a viable strategy for reducing colon cancer. At the very least, they’ll help you stay regular—and that counts for something, right?