Constipation is a common problem that affects up to 20 percent of the world's population. Nearly 60 million Americans suffer from chronic constipation, which is particularly a problem in women and the elderly. It is a pathological condition that is often severe enough to disrupt daily activities and derange quality of life. It responds poorly to available medical remedies and may prompt sophisticated and potentially harmful surgical procedures. Despite all this, it is still frequently considered a trivial issue and affected individuals tend to self-medicate either using over-the-counter laxatives or 'natural' remedies, none of which had been adequately investigated. Until now. Fiber supplements can be inconvenient, taste nasty, and cause bloating--even choking. Prunes could present a natural, convenient, tasty alternative, but do they work?
A randomized clinical trial of prunes vs. Metamucil was recently published. I present the results in my 4-min video Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet. Each dot on the graph represents a complete spontaneous bowel movement. You'll notice when you watch the video how many had zero a week. Study participants went from an average of 1.7 a week up to 3.5 on prunes (at least one every other day), then back to baseline when prunes were removed. On Metamucil they got up to 2.8 a week. Not as good as the prunes, and a significantly better stool consistency was also noted when using the prunes, as measured by the famous Bristol Stool Scale.
The researchers concluded that treatment with dried plums resulted in a greater improvement in constipation symptoms than the commonly used fiber supplement. Given their palatability, tolerability, and availability, dried plums should be "considered as a first line therapy for chronic constipation."
If that's what adding one plant can do, though, what if all you ate was plants? Vegans are off the charts, averaging 10.9!
For more on optimizing bowel function, see:
- Stool Size Matters
- Food Mass Transit
- Bowels of the Earth
- Diverticulosis & Nuts
- Bulking Up on Antioxidants
- Greasy Orange Rectal Leakage
- Kiwifruit for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen
-Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: Alexander Ekman / Flickr