Good news for coffee drinkers and golfers

Also: Pruning away inflammation

Prunes pack powerful nutrient punch

A prune or six a day may help keep inflammation at bay, according to a new study looking at daily prune consumption. It found eating nutrient-rich prunes every day may be beneficial to bone health and reduce inflammatory factors that contribute to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone strength caused by reduced mineral density in the bones. Osteoporosis increases the risk of fracture, especially in older adults. Previous research has shown that the polyphenol extracts in prunes promote lower levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in a type of bone cell called osteoclasts. In a new study, researchers at The Pennsylvania State University explored the effects of prunes on bone health after menopause.

Postmenopausal women with a bone mineral density score that was defined as low were divided into three groups. One group ate 50 grams of prunes (about six prunes) daily for 12 months. A second group ate 100 grams of prunes (about 12 prunes) daily for 12 months. A control group ate no prunes. The research team looked at blood samples taken from all volunteers before and after the trial and found significant reductions in inflammatory markers in both of the prune-eating groups compared to the control group.

“Our findings suggest that consumption of six to 12 prunes per day may reduce pro-inflammatory mediators that may contribute to bone loss in postmenopausal women. Thus, prunes might be a promising nutritional intervention to prevent the rise in inflammatory mediators often observed as part of the aging process,” said study first author Janhavi Damani with Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania.

Hidden health benefits of golfing

While golfing was once known as the game of kings, the American Heart Association says you don’t have to be royalty or a professional player to reap health benefits from hitting the links at your local golf course. Studies suggest that regularly golfing (at least once per month) lowers the risk of death, especially among older adults.

Golfing can provide benefits such as stress reduction and regular exercise. Due to its social nature and typically slower, controlled pace, people of all ages and physical fitness levels can play the sport.

“The regular exercise, time spent outside enjoying nature, social interaction and even the friendly competition of a round of golf are all elements that can foster mental and physical well being,” said Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, who is the president of the American Heart Association and a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. He said the past couple of years have been hard and many adults picked up some unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, such as more eating and less physical activity.

“I think golfing can offer a great opportunity to start venturing back out into an enjoyable activity that can feed our hearts and our souls,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones said.

For the study on golfing, researchers from the University of Missouri in Columbia, analyzed data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, a population-based observational study of risk factors for heart disease and stroke in adults 65 and older. Out of nearly 5,900 participants (average age 72), researchers identified nearly 400 regular golfers. During the 10-year follow-up period, death rates for golfers were significantly lower than for non-golfers.

A comprehensive review of research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed more than 300 scientific studies, leading a panel of 25 public health experts to issue an international consensus statement, noting the health and social benefits of golf.

“The American Heart Association recommends most people get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Golfing qualifies as a moderate-intensity exercise, specifically if you are walking an 18-hole course, carrying your golf clubs,” said Dr. Lloyd-Jones.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones said golfing can increase your heart rate and blood flow, enhancing brain stimulation. “Even if you are riding in a cart and playing a short course of only nine holes, you’re still being physically active, and we know any movement is better than none,” he said.

Good news for coffee drinkers

Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day is not only associated with a lower risk of heart disease, but also with living longer, according to the latest data. These trends are true for both older adults with and without cardiovascular disease. Researchers said new analyses provide reassurance that coffee isn’t tied to new or worsening heart disease and may actually be heart protective.

“Because coffee can quicken heart rate, some people worry that drinking it could trigger or worsen certain heart issues. This is where general medical advice to stop drinking coffee may come from,” said Dr. Peter M. Kistler, with the Alfred Hospital and Baker Heart Institute in Melbourne, Australia. “But our data suggest that daily coffee intake shouldn’t be discouraged, but rather included as a part of a healthy diet for people with and without heart disease. We found coffee drinking had either a neutral effect, meaning that it did no harm, or was associated with benefits to heart health.”

Dr. Kistler and his team used data from the UK BioBank, a large-scale prospective database with health information from over half a million people who were followed for at least 10 years. Researchers looked at varying levels of coffee consumption ranging from just one cup to more than six cups a day and the relationship with heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) and cardio vascular disease.

The current investigation showed that having two to three cups of coffee a day was associated with the greatest benefit, translating to a 10% to 15% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, heart failure, a heart rhythm problem, or dying for any reason. The risk of stroke or heart-related death was lowest among people who drank one cup of coffee a day.

People often equate coffee with caffeine, but coffee beans actually have over 100 biologically active compounds. These substances can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, boost metabolism, inhibit the gut’s absorption of fat and block receptors known to be involved with abnormal heart rhythms, said Dr. Kistler.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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