How Prunes Treat Constipation

A study this month showed that prunes are an effective treatment for constipation, with 120 healthy adults, who did not eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and had bowel movements only 3 to 6 times a week, assigned to groups given either 0, 10 or 15 prunes per day for 4 weeks. Adding prunes to their diets increased:

• bowel movements to almost every day

• stool weight by more than 20 times

• stool containing more Bifidobacteria, healthful colon bacteria that reduce inflammation because they do not try to invade cells lining the colon (Clinical Nutrition, January 12, 2018). The prunes also caused a significant increase in gas. An older study showed that prunes may be more effective than pills containing psyllium in treating constipation (Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 2011; 33: 822–828).

A Common Problem Up to 20 percent of North American adults are constipated and the older you become, the more likely you are to be constipated (Am J Gastroenterol, 2004;99:750– 9). Twenty-six percent of women and 16 percent of men 65 years or older considered themselves to be constipated and by age 84, the numbers rise to 34 percent of women and 26 percent of men (Manag Care Interface, 2005 ; 18 : 23 – 30 ). Chronic constipation means straining and difficulty expelling stool, a feeling of incomplete evacuation, hard or lumpy stools, prolonged time for bowel movements, and/or a need for manual maneuvers to pass stool (Am J Gastroenterol, 2012;107:18–25).

Common causes of constipation include:

• a low-fiber diet

• lack of exercise

• travel or other disruption of your normal daily routines

• certain medications

• conditions such as pregnancy, irritable bowel syndrome or neurological disorders Treatments include adding foods that are high in fiber, exercising, drinking lots of water and spending more time in the bathroom.

How Prunes Help to Relieve Constipation Prunes are dried plums that contain significant amounts of fiber and sorbitol. Even though they have a sweet taste, they do not cause a high rise in blood sugar after you eat them because the sugar is bound to a gel called soluble fiber. Your intestines lack the enzymes that break down soluble fiber, so most of the gel-bound sugar is not absorbed until it reaches your colon where bacteria there ferment the soluble fiber and release the sugar. The fiber softens and adds significant bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass. Gas can also form when sorbitol is fermented by bacteria in the colon, which helps to move the stool toward elimination. Other dried fruits also contain sorbitol, but prunes have the most -- followed by pears, dates, apricots, peaches, apples and raisins. Prunes also contain phenolic compounds like neochlorogenic acid that markedly increase colon contractions and may also help to prevent colon cancer (Nutr Cancer, 2005;53(1):117-25).

My Recommendations Most cases of constipation can be cured by eating more high-fiber foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and other seeds) and restricting foods that have had fiber removed from them such as many dry breakfast cereals, bakery products and pastas. Prunes can help to relieve constipation but they can cause discomfort by producing lots of gas. To avoid excessive amounts of gas, take only a couple prunes at a time, as often as five or more times a day. If adding more fiber to your diet does not cure your constipation, check with your doctor to rule out more serious causes. More on constipation

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