Prune juice is an age-old remedy for constipation, but is there any merit in using it for constipation-predominant IBS? Prunes, now officially called dried plums, are an excellent source of fiber that can help maintain bowel regularity. But are prune products right for you?
A 2008 study reported in the Korean Journal of Community Nutrition found that participants supplementing with prunes and prune juice had an increased number of bowel movements, a decrease in defecation time, a change to a softer stool consistency, and a decrease in abdominal pain during defecation. In addition, the study reported that supplementation with prune products is effective in providing energy, dietary fiber, and water, as well as relieving constipation symptoms for constipated adults.
One reason for this improvement is the fiber in prunes. Prunes are a rich source of dietary fiber, containing about 7 grams per 100 grams of fruit. About 80 percent of the fiber in prunes is soluble fiber. Another reason for this bowel improvement can be attributed to the high levels of sorbitol in prunes. Sorbitol is a high-FODMAP sugar polyol that is typically avoided on low-FODMAP diets primarily because of its laxative effects.
However, a study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics reported that prune consumption was more effective at treating constipation than supplementing with high-fiber psyllium husks. The study also notes that for people with constipation, prunes may help to increase the frequency of bowel movements and improve the consistency of the stool. Another study in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics concluded that dried plums should be used as a first-line therapy for constipation.
Prunes are rich in antioxidants called polyphenols that may prevent cell mutation and reduce cancer cell formation. The polyphenol content of prunes exceeds other dried fruits, such as dates, figs, and raisins. Research reported in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that dried plums and their products (such as prune juice) may have other beneficial health effects when consumed regularly. For example, prune products not only can prevent constipation but may also prevent colon cancer.
In addition, the nutrients in prunes increase satiety, thereby reducing the subsequent intake of food and helping to control obesity, diabetes, and related cardiovascular diseases. The phenolic compounds and their metabolites found in prunes may also act as antibacterial agents in the gastrointestinal tract.
Although prune juice doesn't have the same high fiber content as dried prunes because it is typically filtered, both prunes and prune juice have laxative effects because of their high sorbitol content. Dried plum products are also rich in boron (which strengthens bones and muscles and can help prevent osteoporosis), iron, and potassium. In addition, prunes are rich in several key vitamins (A, K, B6, niacin, and riboflavin) and other minerals (calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, and zinc).
If you want to try prune juice to relieve your constipation, start slowly. Begin by having about 2 ounces, or 1/4 to 1/3 cup, of prune juice (preferably organic, unfiltered juice made from whole prunes rather than concentrate and with no added sugars or other ingredients) in the morning or before bedtime to see how it affects you. Follow it with a large glass (at least 8 ounces) of water. Try this amount once a day or every other day, if the daily effects are too strong. Some people find prune juice to be more palatable if it's ice cold or served over ice. Others find it more enjoyable if it's served as a hot or warm beverage. You could also try mixing your dose of prune juice with water or another beverage, if you prefer.
Adjust the amount of prune juice as necessary for your particular needs, but don't overdo it or you could end up with diarrhea, gas, and cramping instead of relief. Although you can gradually increase your intake to 1/2 to 1 cup maximum per day if necessary, the smaller dose (1/4 cup per day or every other day) may be more than sufficient to relieve your symptoms. Because sorbitol has osmotic effects, which means it pulls extra water into the intestine, be sure to always have additional water before or after you drink the juice as well as throughout the day.
Always proceed with caution when adding prune products to your diet if you have IBS-C. However, if you're seeking a completely natural, non-habit-forming solution to chronic constipation, especially when other approaches (such as diet or fiber supplements) haven't helped, you might want to consider supplementing with small amounts of prune juice.
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