Researchers are on the hunt for natural treatments for cardiovascular disease, especially those that can improve the gut microbiome and lower blood cholesterol levels. Chiu and colleagues investigated prune extract as one such treatment and found that prune extract benefits multiple aspects of health.
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death around the world. High blood cholesterol levels are often responsible for cardiovascular disease. Researchers have developed many different drugs, such as statins, to lower cholesterol. However, these drugs frequently have adverse side effects and patients need constant monitoring. As a result, many researchers are looking for viable natural alternatives.
Fruits and vegetables lower the risk of cardiovascular disease through naturally occurring antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemicals. Antioxidants reduce the effects of free radicals—molecules that cause cell damage, which is linked to disease. Dry plums, known as prunes, are high in fiber as well as beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemical components. In addition, they are thought to help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. The microbiome refers to the community of bacteria that live on and inside our bodies and help us maintain regular function. A healthy gut microbiome can improve nutrient absorption and reduce cholesterol.
To test the utility of prunes for preventing cardiovascular disease, Chiu and colleagues published a paper in Pharmaceutical Biology testing the effects of prune extract on gut microbiome health, blood cholesterol levels, and free radical levels. Their sample consisted of 58 adults with mildly high blood cholesterol. The participants were given either placebo, 50 mL of a prune extract beverage, or 100 mL of a prune extract beverage for four weeks. Chiu and colleagues collected baseline data one week before the experiment, reevaluated participants at the end of the four weeks, and then again two weeks later. The researchers collected blood samples to measure cholesterol and free radical levels. They also collected fecal samples to study the bacteria in the gut microbiome.
The groups who consumed prune extract experienced an increase in the numbers of beneficial gut bacteria and a reduction in the numbers of detrimental bacteria during the four-week experiment period. However, these effects decreased after the participants stopped consuming the prune extract. The groups who consumed prune extract also experienced a significant decrease in blood cholesterol levels relative to the placebo group during the four-week experiment period. However, the effect once again decreased after participants stopped consuming the prune extract. The same effect occurred with free radicals.
Chiu and colleagues conclude that prune extract benefits gut and cardiovascular health. It may serve as an important treatment option for individuals with high blood cholesterol levels. However, the sample size of this study was quite small. Future work will need to focus on isolating the different chemical components of prune extract that lead to its beneficial effects.
Written By: C.I. Villamil