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How Effective Are Prunes as a Laxative?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Prunes as a laxative are considered highly effective. The laxative effect comes from the prunes' ability to draw water into the intestines, the fruit's high concentration of insoluble fiber and a compound they contain called dihydrophenylisatin. When consumed in a reasonable serving size, prunes as a laxative are typically safe and have minimal side effects.

There are three reasons for the efficacy of prunes as a laxative. First, these dried plums are concentrated with the simple sugars fructose and sucrose. These sugars are not easily broken down in the digestive tract and, as a result, the undigested sugars pull water from the body and concentrate it in the stool. The extra water softens the bowel movements and eases the passage of fecal matter.

The insoluble fiber prunes contain increases the bulk of a bowel movement, which helps to move the fecal matter more quickly through the body. The high fiber content also helps to improve the regularity of bowel movements. The dihydrophenylisatin contained in prunes serves as a compound that promotes the contractions in the intestine needed to pass fecal matter.

There are a variety of ways to increase the amount of prunes in the diet. Prunes can be eaten whole, added to salads or meat-containing dishes and eaten with cheese. If the taste of whole prunes is not tolerable, prune juice can be ingested or mixed with apple juice once or twice a day.

The recommended daily amount of prunes is four to five whole prunes per day or about 1 cup (237 ml) of prune juice for an adult. When someone suffering from constipation starts to use prunes as a laxative, he should start with a small quantity. This quantity would be one to two prunes or about one quarter cup (59 ml) of prune juice. Once the body has become used to the effects of the prunes as a laxative, the amount taken per day can be raised or held as it is if the lower dose is effective. If the recommended daily dose is used right from the start, the constipated person may experience cramping and diarrhea.

Besides prunes, there are many other foods that can be used as natural laxatives to relieve constipation. Fruits, such as apples, melons and oranges, with their high water content, can help constipation. Vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, are high in fiber, helping fecal matter to move though the intestines. Raw apple cider vinegar is also touted as a good natural laxative, promoting the growth of the natural flora in the gut and easing constipation.

Where Do Prunes Come From?

Prunes are dried plums, but not all plums can become prunes. Usually, sweeter plums like the European plum make the best prunes. 

The plums that become prunes are picked at their peak ripeness and dried immediately. Fruits get sweeter as they ripen, and the drying process helps draw out the sugar, making them comparable in sweetness to candy and other desserts. 

Drying plums is done on commercial and individual levels. Many companies dry plums, package them, and sell them as prunes, but anyone can make them right in their own kitchen.

Are There Any Side Effects Using Prunes as Laxatives?

Prunes have a lot of health benefits and make excellent laxatives when looking for a natural alternative. Before anyone starts using them, they should consider a few possible side effects.

Prunes Are High in Sugar

The biggest concern with consuming too many prunes is that they may contribute to high blood sugar. Prunes are not unique in this regard, either. Most other dried fruits become sweeter when they are dried. The benefits likely outweigh the risks, however. 

Naturally occurring sugars have a low glycemic index compared to refined sugar. Many experts agree that consuming dried fruit in modest amounts is an excellent way to get a boost of nutrients and fiber. The naturally occurring sugar in fruits doesn’t spike insulin as dramatically as refined sugars. As with all things, balance is key.

They Might Cause Gas or Bloating

Prunes can cause some people to become gassy and bloated. This is because they are high in sorbitol and fiber. People with sensitive stomachs or diarrhea might want to avoid prunes.

Apples, peaches, and sugar-free gum also cause bloating and gas due to the high sorbitol content. Bananas, berries, and oranges, on the other hand, help control symptoms like bloat and gas.

It’s Easy To Become Dependant on Laxatives

When people abuse laxatives, it’s easy to become dependent on them. When the muscles in our intestine stop getting used regularly, they lose function, and as a result, more laxatives are needed. 

It’s important to recognize when it’s time to see a doctor about symptoms. Chronic constipation could be a sign of an underlying issue.

Who Should Eat Prunes?

Almost anyone can benefit from adding prunes to their diet, even diabetics, with guidance from a doctor. Who else can benefit from eating prunes?

The Elderly

As we age, our bodies often need a little extra help to function properly. Our digestive tracts slow down, so including some natural laxatives in our diets can be highly beneficial and help keep things working.

Pregnant People

It likely comes as no surprise that pregnancy can be rough on digestion. A small serving of prunes can ease bathroom-related discomfort and help restore energy levels. 

Almost Anyone

Studies show that the overwhelming majority of adults don’t get enough fiber. Consequently, chronic diseases related to gut health and even some types of cancers are on the rise. With just a few exceptions, such as people with diarrhea, almost anyone can benefit from adding prunes to their diet.

What Else Are Prunes Good For?

Prunes are excellent laxatives, but these highly nutritious fruits have a wide range of benefits. People suffering from constipation aren’t the only ones that should consider adding them to their diet. What other nutritional benefits do prunes provide?

Bone Health

Prunes are high in vitamin K, magnesium, and phosphorus, which are excellent for bone health and keeping osteoporosis at bay.

Inflammation Control

Antioxidants are essential for controlling inflammation, which can lead to cell damage. In turn, this cell damage puts people at risk for cancer and even Type-2 diabetes.

Heart Health

Because prunes are rich in fiber, potassium, and antioxidants, they are great for supporting heart health. Prunes can help lower cholesterol and keep hearts strong.

Weight Control

Prunes are delicious and filling. They are high in calories with a low glycemic index, and the significant fiber content helps you feel full. Eating prunes is a good way to boost metabolism without raising blood sugar, leading to easier weight control.

Why Are Prunes Better Than Laxatives?

Everyone is different, so prunes may not be the best option as a laxative for everybody, but there are several reasons natural laxatives might be better than medications. Talking to a doctor and asking about eating more fiber, such as prunes, will likely be encouraged before starting medications.

Medications, although effective at treating constipation, can often be hard on the digestive system. Side effects such as weakness, diarrhea, and nausea are common. Prunes are usually more gentle, with the worst side effects typically being limited to gastrointestinal discomfort. 

Prunes are also harder to become addicted to than regular laxatives. They work to improve gut health rather than just clearing the intestines.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon995205 — On Apr 11, 2016

I am regularly on pain meds so I must have a laxative. I find that if I eat five prunes each morning I get good results. I buy the large box of prunes and fill it with water. I set it in the refrigerator and soon the fruit is soft and edible. I like the taste of prunes so I enjoy eating them alone or with peanut butter on toast. I do not like prune juice because it is not as effective. Why? I do not know.

By anon991175 — On Jun 02, 2015

I weigh about 140 pounds and ate eight prunes in one day. It felt like I was going to die. It finally went away, though. Never again am I eating over the serving size.

By anon964466 — On Aug 05, 2014

They are awesome, and I really mean that. I actually like the taste so I could eat them all day long, and they help. Even the laxatives seem not to do as much as prunes do for me. I was constipated for ten days or even a bit longer and ate prunes, and as always, they worked miracles. My only complaint is the price, really, because they are kind of expensive where I live!

By anon939206 — On Mar 12, 2014

In 36 hours I have eaten 20 prunes and haven't seen an effect yet!

By anon360112 — On Dec 23, 2013

Are they good for long term use? I have had chronic constipation for years.

By anon341591 — On Jul 13, 2013

What kind of prunes have you guys been eating? I wish it didn't have a laxative effect, I could go through a whole bag if I could.

By anon318955 — On Feb 09, 2013

I love stewed prunes. And they're the easiest food on the planet to cook: put in water, heat, simmer till done.

By anon313456 — On Jan 11, 2013

So I got these bunch of dried fruits which happened to be dried prunes. I didn't know that and ate like 10 -- not a happy day.

By anon311234 — On Dec 30, 2012

Funny reading how many people don't like prunes. I love them. They are very mild and fruity.

By anon293728 — On Sep 27, 2012

I don't like the taste of prune juice. But a little a day goes a long way. Although I found having it mixed with milk (preferably organic) is actually very tasty and sweet. My daughter needs help "going" sometimes and that's the remedy I give her. No laxatives!

By discographer — On Jul 20, 2012

@SarahSon-- The apple cider vinegar sounds interesting. But I'm not sure what you mean when you say "the mother."

I don't know why but natural laxatives that are dried fruits never taste good. Prunes, dried apricots, dried figs are all natural laxatives. Just have a few pieces first thing in the morning followed by a glass of warm water and you'll never be constipated. But, they don't taste good! I guess neither does medication.

I have prunes regularly as a laxative. First, because they work amazingly well. Second, because they're natural and third, they're easily found and affordable. Even though I don't enjoy eating them, I think of it as medicine and force myself if I have to. And considering all the potential health problems I can have in the long term because of constipation (like bowel cancer), I think I prefer prunes.

By stoneMason — On Jul 19, 2012

@John57-- I like the taste of prunes, but I cannot stand the taste of prune juice, so I know how you feel.

I know that prunes are recommended over plums as a laxative. But plums have a similar amount of fiber, so I don't think it's a bad idea to have plums instead if you can't stand prunes. I love having dark, sweet plums in the summer. So I know that they help regulate bowel movements just as prunes do.

Another option could be using chopped prunes along with nuts and oatmeal to make cookies. The other ingredients should hide the flavor of prunes well and you'll still be getting some prunes in your diet.

By SarahSon — On Jul 18, 2012

Eating prunes for constipation is one of those remedies that has been around a long time. Both of my parents have commented on how this is what their parents used for constipation problems.

It is interesting how some of the older, natural remedies like this work best. Many of the newer products on the market have side effects and ingredients that I would prefer not to have.

Another thing that works just as well as prunes for constipation is apple cider vinegar that has 'the mother' in it. This is different than the processed cider vinegar you find in most stores.

I find this works just as well, and like the taste of this better than eating prunes or drinking prune juice. If you are drinking a juice like this for constipation, I have found that adding a little bit of honey to prune juice or apple cider vinegar really helps.

By golf07 — On Jul 17, 2012

When someone suggested I eat some prunes to help with constipation, I found out that you really do want to start out with just a few.

I really was tired of being miserable, so I ate about 5 prunes one night before going to bed. They worked the way they were supposed to, but I think it would have been better if I had started out with just one or two and worked my way up.

This was the first time I had ever eaten a prune and wondered if I would like the taste or not. For me, they don't really seem to have that much of a taste. I don't find them tasty or offensive either way, but just know they work well and try to make sure I eat some every day.

By John57 — On Jul 17, 2012

I really can't handle eating prunes and find myself almost gagging on them. Even though prunes are dried plums, to me, there is a huge difference in taste. I actually like the taste of a fresh plum, but won't touch a prune.

My dad will drink prune juice mixed with apple juice or grape juice. I tried this once and even had a hard time getting that down.

Thankfully, I have enough fruits and vegetables in my diet that I don't have a problem with constipation. On the rare occasions when I need some extra help, I will rely on an herbal supplement.

If the only natural choice I had for constipation was eating prunes, I still don't know if I would be able to do it. They would have to somehow be disguised or mixed in with other food in order for me to get them down.

By honeybees — On Jul 16, 2012

Although this is a conversation many people are embarrassed to have, it is helpful to know what works as a natural laxative. I have tried several things and finally went back to using what my grandmother has used for years to help with constipation.

I really don't mind the taste of prunes and have no trouble popping a couple in my mouth a few times throughout the day. I have found if I do this on a regular basis, I have fewer problems than I do when I get lazy and forget about eating them.

I know not everybody likes the taste of prunes, but for me, they aren't a bad snack, and often times I will eat them with some crackers and cheese for some variety.

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