A prune for what ails you
Chronic constipation-a functional disorder of the intestines characterized by difficult, infrequent, or incomplete bowel movements-affects up to 20% of the world's population.
About half of the people living with constipation aren't satisfied with their current treatment. Standard therapies for constipation include bulking agents (psyllium), stool softeners (Colace(R)), stimulant laxatives (senna), and osmotic laxatives (milk of magnesia). A recent review of these treatments concluded that there is good evidence to support the use of psyllium but not other over-the-counter constipation remedies.
The new study aimed to compare the effect of another home remedy, prunes, with psyllium for the treatment of chronic constipation in 40 adults (average age 38 years). For three weeks, the participants received either 50 grams of prunes two times per day (providing 6 grams of fiber) with meals or 11 grams of psyllium two times per day (also providing 6 grams of fiber) in water. After a one-week treatment-free period, the people switched therapies for the next three weeks. They kept a daily diary during treatment to track effects.
No significant adverse effects were noted with either treatment. Psyllium and prunes both produced a significant improvement in the number of complete spontaneous bowel movements per week compared with before the study. Prunes were particularly beneficial, resulting in an even greater increase in the number of complete spontaneous bowel movements and softer stool consistency compared with psyllium.
"Given their palatability, tolerability, and availability, dried plums should be considered in the initial approach to the management of mild to moderate constipation," said lead study author, Dr. Ashok Attaluri of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.
If you need more help
Constipation can result from many different causes, so check with your doctor about potential underlying causes and also to help identify the treatment that's right for you.
Try these tips to help keep you regular.
- Drink, drink, drink. Staying hydrated is key to preventing constipation. Aim for 64 ounces of water every day. Carry a stainless steel water bottle to help keep things moving when you're on the go.
- Get your whole body moving. Exercise works your insides as well as those muscles you can see. Try walking for 15 minutes several times per day, and add in some stretching and yoga moves aimed at the intestines.
- Give probiotics a try. Sometimes constipation will respond to the addition of gut-healthy bugs called probiotics. You can find them in yogurt and kefir, or take a supplement containing Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.
(Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2011;33:822-8)