Prunes and prune juice for constipation? Too mundane you might think.
Let us ponder on the following truth for a few seconds: simple solutions to complex problems are very often ignored.
For a constipation home remedy to work, we often believe that it has to contain an elaborate, patented molecule, a chemical compound that spent years being tweaked by an army of researchers in white lab coats.
The big pharmaceutical companies definitely want us to hold onto such a belief.
Prune juice is here to challenge this nonsense. In this article, we first explain why such a common dried fruit can pack so many benefits to combat chronic constipation. We invoke science to position this wrinkled little fruit as one of the effective constipation remedies.
Second, we discuss how to give prunes a test drive, and validate whether they can become an integral part your anti-constipation toolkit.
In order to understand how effective prune juice for constipation can be, let’s first look at its list of constituents.
The following tables are based on the data provided by the Sunsweet company (growers and sellers of prunes) and adapted from reference (1). All amounts are given for 100 grams of prunes and 100 grams of prune juice.
|100 grams of Prunes||100 grams of Prune Juice|
|Glucose||23.1 grams||0.01 grams|
|Fructose||13.1 grams||6.2 grams|
|Sorbitol||14.7 grams||6.1 grams|
First of all, prunes and prune juice contain a fair amount of sugars. This is not surprising of course, as they taste quite sweet. But when it comes to constipation, not all sugars are equal.
The interesting one in the list is sorbitol, which makes prune juice for constipation remarkable. All the other sugars (glucose, fructose and sucrose) have a high rate of absorption in the gut. When the food residues reach the colon, those sugars have been digested.
Not so for sorbitol. Its concentration remains high in the colon. It is not as digestible.
We have seen in the introductory pages of this website that the colon absorbs water from the stools in order to avoid dehydration. Fluids are precious to our physiological processes and must be conserved.
But sorbitol creates an opposing force. As the colon drives water from the stools back into our body, sorbitol drives water from our body into the colon. The water located in our colonic mucosa wants to dilute this high sugar concentration through what’s called an “osmotic force".
Sorbitol therefore reduces stool dehydration and combats constipation. Sorbitol is one of the main reasons why we are looking at prunes, and prune juice for constipation.
Sorbitol is called a “non-stimulating laxative”. It does not stimulate peristalsis (the forward, wave-like movement that gets things moving through our digestive tract), which is the role of a “stimulating laxative”. Stimulating laxatives sometimes cause cramping too. Rather, sorbitol acts through fluid exchange in the colon.
|100 grams of Prunes||100 grams of Prune Juice|
Obviously prunes contain fibers whereas prune juice doesn’t. The juicing and filtering process eliminates solid matter, fibers included. There are exceptions. New types of prune juices with the pulp added back are now available (Sunsweet sells such a product).
Fibers, when part of their natural “package” of fruits and vegetables, provide multiple benefits to our gastrointestinal tract (constipation relief included).
I like to nuance the “get more fibers” message the industry is pounding into our heads. This has become a marketing push more than anything else. The industry isolates fibers, packages them in nice little pills, and tells us to gobble those up as the ultimate constipation solution. Pure fibers can often make symptoms worse for constipated people.
Fibers, as encountered as part of a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, are the real allies here. Fibers will be covered in detail in a separate page. For now, let’s just review their two major roles:
|100 grams of Prunes||100 grams of Prune Juice|
|Neochlorogenic acid||131 milligrams||22.5 milligrams|
|Chlorogenic acid||44 milligrams||19.3 milligrams|
|Caffeic acid||0.9 milligrams||0.3 milligrams|
|Coumaric acid||1.0 milligrams||0.4 milligrams|
|Rutin||3.3 milligrams||0.4 milligrams|
Phenolics are constituents that can be found throughout the plant world. They are a major source of anti-oxidants, thus protecting our body against oxidative stress and cell aging.
One side benefit of phenolics for constipation is that they act as stimulating laxatives. They stimulate the enteric nerves and provoke peristalsis. The stools move faster in the colon, thus getting less dehydrated.
We have seen on this website several examples of the pharmaceutical industry replicating molecules found in nature. Does Bysacodyl ring a bell? It is sold as Dulcolax, Durolax, Fleet, and other trade names. The Bysacodyl molecule replicates the structure of phenolics to get to the same effects.
But then why use Bysacodyl when something as simple as prunes contain not only phenolics, but also fibers and sorbitol, all affecting a stalled transit in a positive way?
As can be seen from the table, even though prune juice contains fewer phenolics than the same quantity of prune, it still showcases a sizable amount, which makes prune juice for constipation effective.
Here are my views on what is best between prunes and prune juices for different situations.
I am very much in favor of taking good old prunes as home remedy for constipation prevention. As we will see further down, prune juice for constipation will be reserved for the more acute crises.
To repeat what we saw previously, prunes just pack a lot more wallop than prune juice. They contain:
Prunes are very portable, can be stored in a zip-lock bag and taken wherever you go. They make a great snack food.
That being said, we also need to take lifestyle into account. The fact that they contain fibers means that they will likely create a bit more bloating and gas. Fibers are consumed by our colonic flora, creating gas as a byproduct.
I run a naturopathic clinic, and my days are fairly flexible. I try to schedule pauses between consultations, and I take several breaks during my day to relax and walk around. I can handle a little gas.
Things may be different for you. You may be a waitress at a restaurant, constantly surrounded by people. You may spend your days in meetings. You may be a cashier at the supermarket, stuck on your seat for hours.
So in the end, this is all about you. What works better for me may be less effective for you. Prunes will get you more benefits to fight constipation. They are cheaper than the juice. But they need to fit into your daily routine as well.
If prune juice is a better fit, by all means give it a try.
If you are dealing with an acute crisis, I recommend going to prune juice for constipation right away. You are already backed up; adding more fecal bulk is not going to help.
Prune juice for constipation does not contain fibers, but will still draw water in your gut (sorbitol) and stimulate forward movement (phenolics). Do not use the "pulp added" type for which fibers have been added back-in.
If you want to try prunes or prune juice for constipation, here are the quantities I suggest. This is just a starting point, a guidelines to help you experiment. The quantity that will bring you balance depends on your constitution and gut sensitivities.
This is an example of a progressive introduction of prunes, up to 8 a day. If 8 prunes a day still don’t give you any improvement in your transit, then prunes are not the right constipation remedy for you.
|Day 2 and 3||-||2||2||4|
|Day 4 and 5||1||2||2||5|
|Day 6 and 7||2||2||2||6|
|Day 8 and up||2||3||3||8|
You will have to determine what is the right daily amount for you. Monitor your transit, too many prunes may throw you off and give you cramping and too much bloating.
Keep in mind that prunes are fairly rich in sugar. If you have blood sugar issues, stick to lower doses.
Incorporated in moderate amounts, prunes can be used in the long run. They are, after all, a dried fruit and not a prescription drug with possible complications.
Some people like to cook their plums for a couple of minutes in a bit of water, then drink the water and eat the prunes. I personally like them with a few almonds and walnuts, I find that the protein and fat content of nuts cuts down a bit on the high sugar level.
I often make a tasty dried fruit jam, using 50% dried plums, 25% dried apricots and 25% dried figs. Soak these dried fruits in water overnight, then cook them the next day in a bit of water until you obtain a mush (add water until you reach the desired consistency). Store in a jar in your fridge. Myself, I love to add a tablespoon of this jam in a bowl of greek yogurt.
Prune juice for constipation can sometimes generate a rapid effect. My usual caution applies here, see what works best for you.
Start with a third of a cup of prune juice. Wait 2 hours. If nothing happens, drink another third of a cup, then wait another 2 hours. Repeat until you feel the urge. Take it slowly.
In this article, we have looked at prunes and prune juice for constipation. We have seen that those little fruits can hold their ground compared to modern laxatives.
They have proven their home remedy value in past generations, but they have also been submitted, with success, to the magnifying glass of modern scientists.
They bring not only fibers, but also certain sugars and phenolic compounds that potentiate their balancing or laxative effect, depending how much you take. This is why they are more effective than psyllium husk supplements for constipation relief(3) (which just contain the fiber part).
Thanks to prunes and prune juice for constipation, we continue a long healing tradition built upon strong naturopathic foundations. Let us not forget what Hippocrates taught us more than 2,000 years ago:
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"
(1) Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis M, Bowen PE, Hussain EA, et al, 2001. “Chemical Composition and Potential Health Effects of Prunes: A Functional Food?” Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 41(4):251-28
(2) Tinker LF, Schneeman BO, Davis PA, et al, 1991. "Consumption of prunes as a source of dietary fiber in men with mild hypercholesterolemia". Am J Clin Nutr 53:1259-1265
(3) Attaluri, A., Donahoem, R., Valestin, J., Brown, K. & Rao, S. S. "Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation". Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther.33, 822–828 (2011).