Karo Syrup for Constipation

Karo syrup for constipation

Your mother may have talked about Karo syrup for constipation.

It sounds like a good old grandma’s remedy doesn’t it? The Karo brand exists since the beginning of the 1900’s and has passed the test of time.

And many times in our minds, reminiscent of our childhood, we equate old with good and natural.

Is that really the case? Can Karo syrop bring constipation relief?

You will find out in this article. But first, a few words about what Karo syrup exactly is.

What is Karo syrup

Karo syrup is corn syrup. It is a sweet, concentrated solution that contains maltose (a sugar composed of 2 glucose molecules) and other sugars derived from corn starch. 

You may be wondering : why in the world would we try to extract sugar from corn?

Food historians like Michael Pollan (see his great book "The  Omnivore’s Dilemma") explain the many ways in which governments since the Nixon era have subsidized corn growing with federal money.

Growers were encouraged to grow as much corn as possible. Researchers were also encouraged to create new food outlets for corn. 

Corn syrup was born in labs, and requires a fairly heavy industrial process.

So I am not sure the "natural" adjective is a good fit for corn syrup. Yes it comes from a plant. But it does follow a fairly unnatural production process in my opinion.

The "Karo Light" brand

In the 1970’s, Karo came up with a new version of their popular syrup. That version called "Karo Light" contained high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) until very recently. Karo has now stopped adding HFCS in their product line.

High fructose corn syrup is very problematic for your health. Indeed, if you look at the metabolism of HFCS within your body, you see that 90% is processed by the liver, a sign that it is considered a toxin by our system. HFCS is believed to be partly responsible for the epidemic crises of type 2 diabetes in industrialized countries.

So if you find an old bottle of Karo Light hanging around in one of your mother’s cupboard, do yourself (and your Mom) a favor and throw it away.

Karo syrup for constipation

Karo syrup can act as a mild osmotic laxative. The sugar in the syrup draws water into the gut. It acts as some kind of water magnet if you will. If your child has a mild to moderate case of constipation, this additional moisture could be enough to avert a constipation crisis. 

Here are my usage recommendations :

  • For adults, I don’t consider Karo syrup to be effective.
  • For infants, the usual recommendation for use of karo syrup for constipation is to add it into the formula if your infant is bottle fed (which is likely to be the case if he/she is having constipation issues) - 2 teaspoons in every bottle, possibly increasing to 3 if you don’t see any results after 12 to 24 hours. But please see "risk of botulism" section below.
  • For toddlers, if all you had as a constipation remedy was karo syrup, I would suggest 3 teaspoons in a glass of water, repeated several times a day. Again, “if all you had was karo syrup”. That is a lot of sugar to give a toddler.

Risk of botulism

You may have heard that similar to honey, corn syrup should not be given to babies under 2 because there is a risk of contracting botulism.

This is no longer the case. I refer you to the “Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program” website, run by the California Department of Public Health. I quote from the website :

"A 1988 Canadian survey found no C. botulinum spores in 43 corn syrup samples. A 1991 FDA market survey of 738 syrup samples (354 of which were light corn syrup and 271 were dark corn syrup) concluded that none contained C. botulinum spores. (…) Thus, on the basis of evidence presently available, corn syrup does not appear to be a source of C. botulinum spores or a risk factor for the acquisition of infant botulism."

However, just to be cautious, do not give corn syrup to children under 1 year of age. I have received a report from a nurse working in a NICU regarding an infant with probable botulism that was given karo syrup for constipation.

My take on karo syrup for constipation

Now my personal take : I don’t recommend karo syrup for constipation.

I don’t consider it to be a true natural product. Moreover, I am not a big fan of corn based products in general. And I am definitely not a big fan of giving those pure, refined sugars to our little ones.

My preferred alternative are prunes or prune juice.  They contain more sorbitol, will be more effective as an osmotic laxative, and are way more natural in my mind. You can find organic versions in health food stores.

That being said, if I were stuck at home one evening and my child had constipation, and the only osmotic laxative I had in my cupboard was karo syrup, I would probably give it a try as a constipation remedy.

I would then find a better alternative the next morning...

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