The age-old remedy of eating prunes (aka dried plums) to relieve constipation is more than just an old wives’ tale. This natural method has been used for centuries because it works, and now has both anecdotal and scientific evidence to back it up.
Not only can these dried fruits ease digestive blockages, they are also highly nutritious, and well-worth keeping stocked in your pantry.
Prunes are the dried form of European plums, which are thought to have first been cultivated approximately 2,000 years ago in the area surrounding the Caspian Sea. The practice of drying the plums to make prunes is thought to have begun in the same region not long afterwards. Today, their prime cultivation in the United States takes place in California.
As the term “prunes” has taken on a somewhat unsavory connotation, as they are associated with digestive imbalances, their name was recently officially changed to “dried plums,” in order to encourage more people to see them as a healthy snack and not just a constipation relief aid. However, they are very good in the digestive department, and for those suffering from chronic constipation, dried plums may be just the answer.
Prunes aid in constipation relief in several ways. Their fiber content adds bulk to stool, and also stimulates intestinal muscles to absorb more water and nutrients, to pass stool more efficiently. The insoluble fiber found in prunes also helps to feed friendly gut bacteria, which along with improving digestion, provides a boost to your entire immune system.
Prunes also contain sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol which softens stool and pulls water into the colon. The potassium in prunes also aids in pulling water into the colon. All of these factors combined help to loosen up blockages, speed up bowel movement time and get digestive functioning back to normal.
A 2011 study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics sought to compare the effectiveness of dried plums and psyllium in easing chronic constipation. Psyllium is a form of soluble fiber, derived from the husks of the seeds of the Plantago ovata shrub. This type of fiber is commonly used in laxative products.
For their study, researchers provided 40 volunteers, with an average age of 38, either 50 grams of prunes, or 11 grams of psyllium, over an eight week study. The fiber content in 50 grams of prunes and 11 grams of psyllium is roughly equivalent.
Upon analysing the results, the study authors concluded, “dried plums are safe, palatable and more effective than psyllium for the treatment of mild to moderate constipation, and should be considered as a first line therapy.”
Another study, published in 2008 in the Korean Journal of Community Nutrition, asked 51 adult volunteers (with an average age of 23) who self-reported constipation to ingest a minimum of 50 grams of prunes and 200 milliliters of prune juice each day, along with their regular diet, for four weeks.
The study authors wrote, “our data show that supplementation of prune products is effective to provide energy, dietary fiber and water, and to relieve constipation symptoms for constipated adults.”
The benefits of dried plums do not end at alleviating constipation. These fruits are a good source of the immune-boosting antioxidant vitamin C, and are also rich in vitamin K, copper and potassium.
The soluble fiber content of prunes can help keep you feeling full, thereby making a great snack if you are trying to lose weight, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and may help lower cholesterol.
Dried plums also contain the phytonutrients chlorogenic acid and neochlorogenic acid, which have been linked to the prevention of oxidative stress damage in fat cells. As much of our bodies are made up of fat tissues (neurons, as just one example), this is a highly important benefit.
A note of caution regarding prunes: do not eat them in excess. Too many prunes at once can lead to diarrhea, or other digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating. If you are constipated, start with a handful of prunes or a glass of fresh, organic prune juice – you may find that a little bit goes a long way. Also, if you have kidney or gallbladder disease, talk to a doctor before consuming prunes, as they contain oxalates which may exacerbate the problem.
When choosing prunes, look for organic varieties that do not contain sulfites and other preservatives, to make sure the product you are choosing is as pure and health-promoting as nature intended.
-The Alternative Daily