Constipation is a common condition affecting people of all ages. It occurs when bowel movements become infrequent or difficult to pass. Many factors can contribute to constipation, including inadequate fiber and fluid intake, lack of exercise, certain medications, and some medical conditions. While constipation is rarely serious, it can cause abdominal discomfort, bloating, and pain. Fortunately, there are many effective remedies to help relieve constipation, including laxatives, exercise, increased fluid intake, and consumption of high-fiber foods – like prunes. This article provides detailed, research-based guidance on how many prunes to eat to help relieve constipation.
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation occurs when stool passes through the colon too slowly. This slow transit gives the colon more time to absorb water from the stool, making it hard and dry. Common causes of constipation include:
- Inadequate fiber intake – Fiber adds bulk to stool and helps it move through the colon more quickly. Without adequate fiber, stools become hard and difficult to pass.
- Not enough fluids – Dehydration can lead to hard, dry stools. Fluids help soften stool and aid bowel movements.
- Lack of exercise – Physical activity helps stimulate the contraction of intestinal muscles, which push stool through the colon.
- Certain medications – Opioid pain medications, antidepressants, iron supplements, and antacids can cause constipation.
- Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement – Delaying going to the bathroom can exacerbate constipation.
- Specific medical conditions – These include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hypothyroidism, and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
- Changes in routine or surroundings – Travel, pregnancy, and stress can disrupt usual bowel patterns.
Identifying and addressing the underlying cause of constipation is key to managing the condition. Adding prunes to your diet can help provide symptom relief.
Why Prunes are Beneficial for Constipation Relief
Prunes are dried plums, naturally high in fiber with added health benefits. Here’s why prunes are so effective for relieving constipation:
- Fiber content – Prunes contain about 6 grams of fiber per 1⁄4 cup. Soluble fiber in prunes helps add bulk and moisture to stool.
- Sorbitol – Prunes contain a natural laxative compound called sorbitol, which acts as an osmotic agent to stimulate bowel movements.
- Phenolic compounds – These antioxidants in prunes may stimulate digestive enzymes and enhance gut function.
- Potassium – Prunes provide potassium, which helps balance fluids and electrolytes in the body to support healthy muscle contractions.
In multiple studies, consuming prunes or prune juice has been shown to significantly improve stool consistency, frequency, and ease of passage compared to placebo. The unique combination of nutrients and compounds in prunes makes them an ideal natural remedy for constipation relief.
How Many Prunes Should You Eat Per Day for Constipation?
Studies provide some guidance on effective prune dosages for constipation:
- In one study, consuming 2-3 prunes per day for 3 weeks significantly improved stool frequency and consistency in adults with constipation.
- Another study found that 40 grams of prunes (about 8 medium prunes) twice per day for 4 weeks improved stool frequency and consistency scores compared to psyllium fiber supplementation.
- Research in adolescents showed that consuming 8-12 ounces of prune juice per day for 2 weeks improved constipation symptoms.
- Other studies demonstrate benefits with 100 grams of prunes per day (about 10 large prunes) and 150 ml of prune juice per day.
Based on these studies, a serving size of 5-12 prunes or 4-8 ounces of prune juice, taken twice per day, is an appropriate and effective dosage for adults with constipation. Consuming this amount should provide sufficient fiber, sorbitol, fluids, and antioxidants to help stimulate bowel movements.
Of course, the number of prunes needed may vary based on the individual. Start with a smaller amount and monitor effects for a few days. Increase the serving size slightly if stools do not soften or bowel movements don’t increase. Discontinue use if loose stools or diarrhea result.
Tips for Incorporating Prunes into Your Diet
Here are some easy ways to add the recommended amount of prunes into your daily routine:
- Enjoy prunes as a snack – Keep a bag of dried prunes to munch on. Or take some with you to have during the day.
- Add prunes to oatmeal or cereal – Chop up some prunes to mix into your breakfast oats, granola, or cereal.
- Make a prune smoothie – Blend prunes with yogurt, milk, and ice for a nutritious beverage.
- Bake with prunes – Try adding prunes to muffins, quick breads, cobblers, or other baked goods.
- Prepare prune compote – Simmer prunes with apple cider and spices, then serve over yogurt or pancakes.
- Use prune puree in recipes – Puree prunes in a food processor, then use as part of marinades, dressings, stuffed chicken, or meatballs.
- Eat prunes with cheese – Enjoy some prunes alongside string cheese or hard cheese as a fiber-filled, on-the-go snack.
- Make stuffed prunes – Pit and stuff prunes with nuts, spices, coconut, or chocolate for an indulgent treat.
Experiment to find the tastiest ways for you to consume 5-12 prunes per day. This dosage can effectively help relieve constipation. But be sure to drink plenty of fluids as well to enhance the laxative effects.
How Long Does It Take for Prunes to Relieve Constipation?
Prunes typically produce a laxative effect within 6-12 hours of consumption. However, the timing may vary. Some studies show bowel movement effects can occur:
- Within 6 hours of eating prunes
- Within 12-24 hours
- After 24-48 hours
The onset time likely depends on factors like:
- The number of prunes consumed
- Whether prunes are eaten on an empty stomach or with a meal
- A person’s individual digestive health and transit time
- If constipation is acute or chronic
- Use of any medications that delay gastric emptying
Chronic constipation may require consistently consuming prunes for at least 2-3 weeks to observe improvements. Additionally, combining prunes with other remedies like exercise, fluids, magnesium supplements, or laxative medications can enhance efficacy.
Monitor your symptoms after eating prunes at different times of day to determine when you experience the best effects. Contact your doctor if constipation lasts longer than 2 weeks despite making dietary changes.
Are Prunes Effective for Treating Chronic Constipation?
Multiple studies demonstrate prunes can be an effective remedy for chronic constipation. In a trial of adults with chronic constipation, consuming 50 grams of prunes twice daily (about 10 prunes per serving) for 4 weeks significantly improved stool consistency, frequency, and straining compared to psyllium fiber.
Another study had subjects eat 100 grams of prunes each day for 6 weeks. 50% of the prune group reported major improvements in constipation symptoms versus 24% in the control group. And in postmenopausal women with chronic constipation, drinking 8 ounces of prune juice twice daily for 4 weeks significantly increased bowel movement frequency and softened stool consistency.
The key is to consume a therapeutic serving of prunes every day over several weeks. This provides a sustained increase in fluid content, fiber, and laxative compounds in the diet to help normalize bowel function. One study found that the beneficial effects of prunes persisted for up to 1 month after stopping consumption.
For chronic constipation, aim to eat 5-12 prunes or drink 4-8 ounces of prune juice 1-2 times per day. After 2 weeks, you can taper to a maintenance serving 2-3 times per week once stools normalize. Prunes are very effective as part of a long-term regimen for managing chronic constipation.
Prune Supplements for Constipation
Instead of eating whole prunes, some people opt to take prune extract capsules. These supplements provide concentrated doses of prune powder. Some research shows prunes extracts can enhance colonic motility and improve constipation.
Typical prune supplement dosages found to be effective for constipation relief include:
- 1-2 capsules (500 mg each) per day
- 1500 mg per day
- 500 mg taken three times per day
When choosing a prune supplement:
- Select products standardized to a minimum prune fiber or sorbitol content
- Look for capsules providing 500-1500 mg prune powder per serving
- Ensure no extra fillers or binders are present
Prune extracts can provide a more convenient method to get benefits versus eating whole prunes. But keep in mind sorbitol liquid laxatives might provide more reliable and effective relief of constipation than supplements.
Side Effects of Eating Too Many Prunes
Prunes are typically safe to eat daily for constipation in the recommended amounts. But some possible side effects can occur if you eat too many prunes. These include:
- Diarrhea – Prunes have a laxative effect. Consuming very high amounts can lead to loose, watery stools or diarrhea.
- Abdominal discomfort – Excessive fiber and sorbitol from overeating prunes may result in gas, bloating, and cramping.
- Dangerously low potassium – Heavy consumption of prunes could potentially cause too much potassium loss in some people.
- Weight gain – Prunes are high in calories and sugars. Eating too many could increase calorie intake and lead to weight gain.
- Medication interactions – The laxative effect could potentially speed the passage of some medications through the GI tract, making them less effective.
To avoid these possible prune-related side effects, stay within recommended portions of 5-12 prunes per day. Be sure to drink adequate fluids as well. Discontinue use if any concerning symptoms develop. Moderation is key when harnessing the beneficial effects of prunes.
Safety and Precautions for Prune Use
Prunes are very safe for most people when used appropriately. But some precautions apply:
- Avoid giving prunes to infants under 1 year old as it may lead to diarrhea. Consult a pediatrician first.
- If you take any prescription medications, check for potential interactions involving laxatives.
- Don’t rely on prunes alone to treat severe or persistent constipation. See a doctor to identify underlying causes.
- Reduce prune intake if loose stools develop.
- Drink plenty of water when increasing fiber intake to prevent choking hazards.
- Avoid eating an excessive amount of prunes if diabetic due to their high sugar content.
Only eat more prunes than recommended under medical supervision. Notify your doctor if constipation persists after 2 weeks of increasing fluid and fiber intake. With judicious use, prunes can safely provide predictable constipation relief for most individuals.
Prunes offer a time-tested, natural approach to effectively manage constipation. A serving size of 5-12 prunes or 4-8 ounces of prune juice, taken 1-2 times per day, provides an appropriate amount of fiber, sorbitol, fluids, and nutrients to stimulate bowel movements. Within 6-12 hours, this dosage will usually produce a laxative effect to relieve constipation. Consuming prunes or prune juice daily over 2-3 weeks can also aid chronic constipation. Just be sure to drink plenty of fluids and adjust the amount of prunes if diarrhea occurs. Incorporating prunes into your diet is an evidence-based strategy to keep your digestive system regular.