This Old-School Constipation Fix Is Still #1, As Confirmed by Fascinating New Science

A recent nutrition study revealed the intriguing reason prunes for constipation are still a worthy recommendation.

Maybe the suggestion came from your doctor, a dietitian—even Grandma!: For ages, prunes for constipation have been a staple recommendation for their purported ability to help when it’s been a few uncomfy days since your last go. But why, exactly, are prunes for constipation considered such an effective fix? According to a recent study, it goes way beyond their fiber content.

While prunes contain around three grams of fiber per four prunes—which can help with constipation—researchers have just linked prune consumption with improved gut health and reduced inflammation.

To better understand the study, The Healthy @Reader’s Digest spoke with Charleston, SC-based registered dietitian nutritionist Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, CLEC about how prunes for constipation can be a beneficial addition to your daily menu.

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Prunes for constipation: Here’s the science

Published November 2022 in the journal Food & Function, the study found that eating prunes positively affected the gut microbiome and inflammatory markers among a sample of postmenopausal women. The research, sponsored by the California Prune Board, was a 12-month randomized control study evaluating women between the ages of 55 and 75. The women were separated into three groups—a group that ate 50 grams of prunes per day, 100 grams per day, or no prunes at all. Fecal samples were collected from 143 women of the 183 who completed the full 12-month intervention to evaluate the effect of prune consumption on the gut microbiome.

After 12 months, the researchers found an increase of Lachnospiraceae in the samples taken from the prune consumers. This particular family of bacteria helps to maintain a strong gut barrier. Further, the researchers point out that the antioxidant content in the prunes may have had an effect on the comparatively lower inflammation indicators the researchers observed among the participants at the conclusion of the study.

“While this study sample was on the smaller side, it was well designed and it offers a realistic potential solution that may help support gut health among this population,” says Manaker. “While eating around five or six prunes every day won’t guarantee that every postmenopausal woman will experience these gut health benefits, there is little risk associated with including this intervention in an overall healthy diet.”

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Why gut health is vital for constipation relief

Increasingly, there’s research to demonstrate the impact of a well-balanced gut microbiome on overall health. One of the most demonstrated (and most obvious) impacts of a healthy gut is digestive and gastrointestinal health. This includes the issue of constipation.

A 2019 study overview published in Frontiers in Medicine made the connection between the health of the gut microbiome and constipation, stating that a dysbiosis (imbalance) of gut microbiota may contribute to functional constipation and constipation-type irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The overview concluded that treatments for constipation include sources of prebiotics (feeding on your gut bacteria) and probiotics (replenishing your gut bacteria). Prunes are a prebiotic food.

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Prunes also decrease inflammatory markers

Along with improving the bacteria composition in the gut, this study pointed out the benefit it has toward unwanted low-grade inflammation in the body, given that Lachnospiraceae is a butyrate-producing bacterium known for inhibiting intestinal inflammation.

“Any way to reduce low-grade inflammation is a positive in my opinion,” Manaker says, “especially when it benefits postmenopausal women. Some data show that the changes that occur during and after menopause may be linked to elevated inflammatory markers, suggesting that inflammation can be elevated during this stage.”

Manaker also points out that higher inflammation in the body has also been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, and women older in age could be higher at risk. “Because cardiovascular event increase has been seen among females over 55 years old, finding any way to potentially reduce this risk is key.”

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Prunes already include many health benefits

Like other prebiotic foods, prunes are a great source of fiber in the diet. The Mayo Clinic notes that having a proper amount of dietary fiber in the diet is important for normalizing bowel movements, decreasing constipation risk and softening the stool to more easily pass through the digestive tract. The American Heart Association recommends 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.

Prunes have also been regarded for supporting bone health. Penn State University researchers linked eating prunes on a daily basis with preserved bone density in women. In the study, women who didn’t eat prunes saw a 1.1% decrease in bone density over a year, while the prune eaters—consuming around five or six per day—saw no difference in bone density numbers.

All in all, adding prunes to your day may benefit your health overall…and prunes for constipation is a tried-and-true solution. You should always talk to your doctor before making a significant change to your diet—but, says Manaker: “Besides possibly experiencing a little gas, having a daily serving of prunes every day may help but will unlikely cause detriment to a person’s health.”

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Medically reviewed by Latoya Julce RN, BSN, on April 03, 2023

Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.