Sooner or later, it happens to most everyone — constipation. If you're looking for a natural alternative to taking a medicinal laxative, certain kinds of fruit can often relieve constipation by virtue of their fiber and sugar content. Eating fruit with laxative effects, along with drinking plenty of fluids and participating in regular physical activity, can usually get things moving again in short order.
Prunes and Plums
Prunes are the "superfruit" when it comes to relieving constipation. The laxative effect of prunes is due to high concentrations of the naturally occurring sugar sorbitol and plant fiber. Your intestines cannot break down sorbitol. When you eat sorbitol-rich fruit, the undigested sugar pulls large amounts of water into your intestines, which helps push the stool through and promotes bowel movements. This effect is so predictable that manufactured sorbitol is sometimes used as a medicinal laxative. The high fiber content of prunes adds stool bulk, which also promotes movement of fecal material through your bowels.
Prunes, which are dried plums, provide you with more concentrated sorbitol and fiber than their fresh counterparts. If you prefer fresh plums, they provide the same benefits if you eat enough of them. Prune juice is another option. Everyone's digestive system responds differently, so you may need to experiment to find out how many prunes or plums will relieve your constipation. In an April 2011 article published in "Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics," Dr. Ashok Attaluri and colleagues found that 50 g of prunes — roughly four or five prunes — twice daily, were more effective than psyllium for the treatment of mild to moderate constipation.
If you don't like prunes and plums, not a problem. Pears are also high in sorbitol and fiber. To get the most fiber, eat fresh pears with the peel. When eating fruit specifically to relieve constipation, it is helpful to eat it on an empty stomach, typically first thing in the morning. Follow up with one or two 8-oz. glasses of water to get maximum benefit. Pear juice is also a good option for a concentrated source of sorbitol. Be aware that sorbitol may cause you to have increased intestinal gas.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away," and may help alleviate your constipation. Like plums, prunes and pears, apples contain sorbitol and natural fiber. Whole apples with the peel provide you with more fiber than peeled apples or applesauce. Drinking apple juice with meals may also help alleviate constipation.
Sweet cherries are a delicious treat and a good natural remedy for constipation because of their high concentration of sorbitol. Frozen cherries are a good substitute when fresh cherries are out of season. Although you may be understandably anxious to cure your constipation, don't eat too much fruit all at one sitting or you may end up with diarrhea.
Is This an Emergency?
- USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine: Too Much Juice Can Cause Intestinal Discomfort Usually Blamed on Milk
- "Handbook of Indices of Food Quality and Authenticity"; Rekha S. Singhal, et al.; 1997
- "Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics"; Randomised Clinical Trial: Dried Plums (Prunes) vs. Psyllium for Constipation; Ashok Attaluri, M.D., et al.; April 2011
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; Constipation; July 2007