Your grandmother's remedy for constipation -- prunes -- is still an effective remedy today. In fact, prunes may work better for alleviating this condition than fiber supplements like psyllium, according to a study reported in April 2011 in "Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics." If you suffer from constipation, you are not alone -- more than 4 million Americans are frequently affected by this condition. Consult a doctor before trying any new constipation treatment.
A recommended treatment for constipation is 50 g dried prunes twice daily. The 50 g serving equates to about seven medium-sized prunes. This treatment has been shown to be better than a standard 11 g dose of psyllium taken twice a day. Prunes produce more spontaneous bowel movements weekly and better stool consistency, according to A. Attaluri, lead author of the study in "Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics." Prunes and psyllium are equally well tolerated, Attaluri notes.
The dietary fiber in prunes is partly responsible for their laxative effect, according to "Nutrition and Health" by Eugene A. DeFelice. The amounts in Attaluri's study, 50 g prunes and 11 g psyllium, provide equal amounts of fiber -- about 6 g. However, the skin of prunes also contains a chemical substance called dihydrophenylisatin that is a gentle stimulant laxative, DeFelice notes. Prunes also contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that draws water from the intestine and helps produce their laxative effect.
Increase your fluid intake as you increase your fiber intake with prunes. The University of Iowa recommends at least 8 cups of fluid daily. Drinking water and other liquids adds fluid to your colon. This helps bulk your stools and makes your bowel movements softer as well as easier to pass. You actually raise your risk for constipation if you increase fiber but do not take in enough fluids, advises Dr. William Sears, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine.
If you do not want to consume prunes, you may use prune juice to combat constipation. An adult dose is one-half cup prune juice. For babies and children, consult a physician. The usual advice for babies is 1 to 2 oz. prune juice, according to PubMed Health.