Healthy Living

Prune Juice for Constipation? Dr. Huson Has Got You Covered

Jan 5 2024

The following piece was written by Tamara Huson, MD, a primary care provider at Mercy Health – Loveland Primary Care.

Did you know you can use prune juice for constipation?

Well, anyone who enjoyed the “summer of Suits” phenomenon and binge-watched the legal melodrama will readily recognize the key ingredient in Louis Litt’s famous ‘prunie’ shakes is prunes! Long famed for helping you “go” more regularly, prunes and prune juice are, in fact, a good, easy and natural remedy for constipation.

So, first things first. What is constipation?

In general, it’s defined as infrequent bowel movements, usually less than three bowel movements per week. Almost 20 percent of Americans report this condition with their digestive system, and females seem to be more affected as well as those older than 65 years old. Kiddos are also affected: 30 percent of children are reported with the highest numbers in the pre-school years.

Aside from being a literal pain, symptoms of constipation lead to loss in work and school days as well as lower quality of life. There are many treatments that help relieve constipation, some with and some without prescriptions. Prunes specifically seem almost like an old tall tale of sorts.

So, the question is, do prunes and prune juice work?  

The answer is yes! While the exact way prunes make us go is unknown, the thought is that they are high in fiber and a substance called sorbitol.

Fiber is found in different foods, and our bodies cannot break it down. As such, it moves largely unchanged through the body and essentially works as a cleaning brush to help clean everything out. For example, one cup of pitted prunes has about 12.4 grams of fiber. And with the daily fiber recommendation for a 2,000-calorie diet being 28 grams per the USDA, that’s almost 50 percent!

As for sorbitol, it is a substance that works by pulling water into the gut, giving it a natural laxative effect. This helps keep the consistency of everything in it – aka stool that is nice and soft, not lumpy stools.

And it doesn’t matter how you consume prunes.

Enjoy eating this home remedy as prunes themselves, as juice or in a “prunie” if you please. But the goal is not to overdo it! While fiber can be wonderful, too much of it too fast can cause bloating, gas and discomfort. Because of the sorbitol, prunes can also overcorrect constipation to diarrhea if used excessively.

The key is to start with small amounts and slowly increase until you are having more regular bowel movements and stools are soft. The Mayo Clinic, for example, recommends two to four ounces of prune juice at a time for children, typically 6 months and older. For adults, starting four to eight ounces of prune juice intake or one serving of six prunes per day is reasonable.

How quickly prunes or prune juice will work depends on each individual.

Some will see results in as little as a few hours. For some, it may take a day or so. Using this “go-slow” approach makes you more likely to improve symptoms without rapid urgency or even diarrhea. However, you should always listen to your body and use the least effective amount of prunes or prune juice possible. And since everyone’s body is different, this is not an exact science. There can be too much of a good thing, so do not be too aggressive with prune use.

Aside from the wonderful dried plums we affectionately call prunes, other things can also help you with passing stool naturally.

Fiber in your daily and general diet, like fruits, veggies, nuts and grains, help get everything moving. Although good quality data is lacking for this, the harm is low to use exercise and hydration to help with constipation. Exercise is wonderful in general and has many other health benefits.

Regarding hydration, it’s helpful to remember that caffeine, found in soda, tea and even chocolate, subtracts from your body water, working as a diuretic, so you have to account for this. Lastly, some studies have shown that establishing a regular routine helps to condition the body and reflexes, with the optimal time for a bowel movement being within the first two hours of morning waking.

So, what’s the final word?

Are prunes and prune juice for constipation the way to go if searching for an easy, affordable and natural way to improve regularity? Well, to quote Louis Litt: “Prunie, anyone?”

Learn about the primary care services we provide at Mercy Health.

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