Is Eating Dates Good for You?

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Consuming seven Ajwa dates each day may help prevent preeclampsia during pregnancy -- and that's just one of dates' many health benefits

The health benefits of dates date to as far back as biblical times. Koran, the holy book of Islam, references the effects of the fruit for better birthing: Allah instructs the Virgin Mary to consume dates when she gives birth to Jesus.[i] Within Islamic tradition, dates maintain a revered place in pregnant women's health.

Now a new study echoes potential health gains from consuming dates during pregnancy, specifically how doing so may inhibit the progression of preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy that's a leading factor in fetal and maternal deaths worldwide.[ii] This is just one of the many health benefits of dates -- an often-overlooked fruit in the U.S.

Dates May Support a Healthy Pregnancy

In a study published in December 2019, a group of researchers randomly assigned 40 pregnant women to a control group and an intervention group that received seven Ajwa dates every day. They then assessed the subjects' mean arterial pressure (MOP) and roll-over test (ROT), a combination of measurements that can be used for predicting preeclampsia, before and after the eight-week study period.

The intervention group displayed a significant reduction in MAP and ROT after the experiment, pointing to the "remarkable potential" of ingesting seven Ajwa dates every day in slashing the risk of developing preeclampsia.[iii] A significant decrease in MAP surfaced in the dates group on day 21, while the opposite was found in the control group.

By the time the study was complete, MAP dropped by 13% in the dates group and increased by 8.1% in the control group. Similar findings surfaced on ROT values, with the dates group showing a 66.4% reduction while the control group had a 5.6% increase.

The potential mechanism of action? The high levels of potassium and magnesium in Ajwa dates -- important minerals that help control blood pressure, normal heart rhythm and muscle contraction. The potassium in dates acts as a main blood vessel regulator, while the magnesium helps lower diastolic blood pressure. Flavonoids in Ajwa dates also exhibit vasodilator activity that helps push blood pressure down.

Additional scientific literature also confirms the value of dates in pregnancy. A 2011 study concluded that date consumption for four weeks significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labor, producing "a more favorable, but non-significant, delivery outcome."[iv] The group's date intervention reported results including improved cervical dilation, less damage to membranes, more natural labor and less drugs required, as well as shorter labor.

Dates for Brain Health, Reduced Cancer Risk

The powerful healing properties of dates don't end in pregnancy, as the fruit has also been linked to the following benefits:

  • Reduced colon cancer risk -- A randomized, controlled, cross-over, human intervention study revealed that date consumption may reduce colon cancer risk without inducing changes in the microbiota or gut health.[v]
  • Increased male fertility -- Date palm pollen seems to benefit male infertility by improving the quality of sperm parameters.[vi]
  • Neuroprotection in diabetic peripheral neuropathy -- Date fruit extract may be effective in preventing diabetic deterioration and improving symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in animal models, compared with control groups.[vii]
  • Potentially reduced Alzheimer's disease risk -- Date seed extract may have beneficial effects in preventing induced Alzheimer's in animal models, helping prevent the onset of the disease later in life.[viii]
  • Protection against DNA damage -- Pre- and post-treatment regimens of date palm extract significantly restored induced DNA damage. This reflected in lowered occurrence of toxicity markers in the animal subjects' bone marrow cells and inhibition of DNA fragmentation in their blood. [ix]

In an evaluation of the physical and chemical properties of the date fruit, researchers also found that date seed oils offer an abundance of fatty acids including oleic, lauric, myristic, palmitic and stearic acids.[x] Calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus were also found at high concentrations, showing a rich nutritional profile in one food.

It is worth noting, though, that dates have high sugar content, mainly glucose and fructose.[xi] This merits eating the fruit in moderation. The database features 71 abstracts with dates research, aiding in a closer review and assessment of the health-promoting properties of this celebrated food.

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[i] The Holy Koran, Chapter 12 - verses 22-25

[ii] Steegers EA et al "Pre-eclampsia" The Lancet. 2010 Aug 21; 376(9741):631-44.

[iii] Royani I et al "Effect of Ajwa Dates Consumption to Inhibit the Progression of Preeclampsia Threats on Mean Arterial Pressure and Roll-Over Test" Biomed Res Int. 2019 ;2019:2917895. Epub 2019 Dec 10.

[iv] Al-Kuran O et al "The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labour and delivery" J obstet Gynaecol. 2011 ;31(1):29-31.

[v] Eid N et al "Impact of palm date consumption on microbiota growth and large intestinal health: a randomised, controlled, cross-over, human intervention study" Br J Nutr. 2015 Oct ;114(8):1226-36.

[vi] Rasekh A et al "Effect of Palm Pollen on Sperm Parameters of Infertile Man" Pak J Biol Sci. 2015 Apr ;18(4):196-9.

[vii] Zangiabadi N et al "Date fruit extract is a neuroprotective agent in diabetic peripheral neuropathy in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats: a multimodal analysis" Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2011 ;2011:976948. Epub 2011 Dec 1.

[viii] Dehghanian F et al "Date seed extract amelioratesĪ²-amyloid-induced impairments in hippocampus of male rats" Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 May ;89:221-226. Epub 2017 Feb 20.

[ix] K A S Diab et al "In vivo Comparative Studies on Antigenotoxicity of Date Palm (Phoenix Dactylifera L.) Pits Extract Against DNA Damage Induced by N-Nitroso-N-methylurea in Mice" Toxicol Int. 2012 Sep ;19(3):279-86.

[x] Al Juhaimi F et al "Physical and chemical properties, antioxidant activity, total phenol and mineral profile of seeds of seven different date fruit (Phoenix dactylifera L.) varieties" Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2012 Feb ;63(1):84-9. Epub 2011 Jul 15.

[xi] Assirey A et al "Nutritional composition of fruit of 10 date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) cultivars grown in Saudi Arabia" J Taibah Univ Sci. 2015 Jan ;9(1):75-9

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