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Side Effects of Prunes

author image Lana Billings-Smith
Lana Billings-Smith has been writing professionally since 1997. She has been published in the "Montreal Gazette" and the "National Post." She also teaches and lectures at McGill University. A certified personal trainer, she holds a Bachelor of Arts with a specialization in leisure sciences and a minor in therapeutic recreation.
Side Effects of Prunes
Eat prunes as is or use them to make dishes, like bacon-wrapped prunes. Photo Credit: Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images

Prunes are made from dehydrated plums and are sometimes called dried plums. Both purple and yellow plums can be used to make prunes, which are high in nutrients and dietary fiber. Prunes can be eaten dried as-is, although they are sometimes stewed to make a dessert or are processed into prune juice. Consuming too many prunes can lead to digestive side effects, including diarrhea and a dependency on laxatives.

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Digesting Prunes: Consider Fiber

Prunes are naturally high in fiber, with a 1/2-cup serving containing 6.2 grams of fiber. This means a single serving has 16 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for adult men under 50 and 25 percent for adult women under 50. They provide around 21 percent of the RDA for pregnant and breast-feeding women. They also provide 21 percent of the RDA for men over 50 and 30 percent of the RDA for women in the same age group. A diet high in fiber, while providing a number of health benefits such as reducing the chances of constipation and lowering cholesterol levels, can also cause bloating and gas, especially if you are not used to a diet high in fiber.

Nature's Own Laxative

Prunes contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that has laxative effects -- it causes bowel movements -- when eaten in sufficient quantities. A 50-gram serving of sorbitol is enough to cause a laxative effect, although you would need to eat a large quantity of prunes to reach this amount. A 1/2-cup serving containing 10 prunes yields roughly 12 grams of sorbitol. Prune juice, because it is more concentrated than whole prunes, has 15 grams of sorbitol per 8-ounce serving.

Avoid Laxative Dependency

Laxative dependency occurs when you rely too much on laxatives -- natural or otherwise -- to provide regular bowel movements. Because of the sorbitol content, consuming too many prunes or prune juice servings too often can lead to a dependency on laxatives, where your bowels stop responding to the sorbitol stimulus and develop muscle damage. This can lead to increased constipation or a reliance on more and more laxative to get the same result. Excessive laxative use can also cause dehydration and mineral imbalances in your system, leading to poor muscle control, kidney damage and possibly weakness and blurry vision.

How Many Prunes

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you eat 1 1/2 to two servings of fruits per day for a healthy diet, which can include 100-percent fruit juices as well as dried fruits. A serving of prunes is a 1/2 cup, while a serving of 100-percent prune juice is 1 cup. California Dried Plums states that you can safely eat up to 10 to 12 prunes a day, which is a little more than a 1/2 cup of fruit. If you are not used to a diet high in fiber, however, start with a smaller serving, of four to five prunes, and gradually increase your consumption to avoid digestive side effects.

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