If you are experiencing the discomfort of constipation, you may be willing to do anything to have a bowel movement. Natural remedies, such as consuming more pitted prunes, can help soften your stool without the use of over-the-counter laxatives. When pitted prunes do not bring you relief, you may turn to commercial laxatives -- but always check with your health care provider before taking any medication.
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Bowel movement cycles vary from person to person. Certain conditions can contribute to hard, difficult-to-pass stools, or interrupted stool cycles, include poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, pregnancy, illness and certain medications, notes the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Constipation can cause cramping, bloating, gas, irritability and anal fissures. Consult your doctor if you experience regular bouts of constipation.
You may be quick to reach for a laxative, but regular use of oral laxatives can lead to dependence and affect your ability to absorb nutrients and certain medications notes the National Digestive Disease Clearinghouse. FamilyDoctor.org recommends using natural methods, such as physical activity and more fiber-rich foods -- including prunes – before trying over-the-counter laxatives.
Types of Over-the-Counter Laxatives
Laxatives come in oral or rectal varieties. Oral laxatives come in four forms: oral osmotics that draw water into the colon to help you pass stool; oral bulk formers, or fiber supplements, that help add bulk to your stool prompting natural contraction of your digestive system; oral stool softeners that add moisture to your stool; and oral stimulants that trigger contractions in your intestinal muscles. Rectal laxatives also work by stimulating your digestive tract muscles. All laxatives can lead to unpleasant side effects, including bloating, cramping, gas, stomach discomfort and cramping. Even though over-the-counter laxatives are available without a prescription, you should consult with your physician before taking them.
Prunes are a mild, natural laxative. They are high in fiber and the indigestible sugar sorbitol. Prunes may cause diarrhea in people with normal stool cycles. An April 2011 study published in “Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics” found that dried plums, also known as pitted prunes, are more effective than psyllium -- a common ingredient in oral bulk former supplements -- in fighting constipation. Prunes may not work for everyone and do not stimulate the bowels like over-the-counter stimulant laxatives. You may need stimulant laxatives under direction of your doctor if you suffer from chronic constipation or constipation due to a medical condition.
If you use over-the-counter oral and rectal laxatives too often it can lead to too much fluid loss and cause an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes regulate your nerve functioning, muscle contraction, fluid balance and heart rhythm. Drink plenty of fluids daily to keep your system hydrated, especially if you are taking laxatives. Including more high-fiber foods in your diet, along with pitted prunes, can increase the bulk in your intestines, thus making stool easier to pass.