Feeling a little ‘backed-up’? You’re not alone; about 80 percent of Americans suffer from constipation at one point or another. Fortunately for most, all that is needed to prevent constipation is a little extra dietary fiber. It is important, however, to choose the right source of fiber, and with so many options out there, choosing can be difficult. Prunes and psyllium have long been found to help restore colon health and reduce constipation due to their high fiber content. However, a recent study has found that prunes outperform psyllium in two notable ways when it comes to relieving constipation and improving colon health.
Researchers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics enrolled 40 constipated adult participants in an eight-week-long study that pitted prunes against psyllium. According to lead researcher, Satish Rao, MD, PhD, “Dried plums (prunes) have been traditionally used for constipation but they have not been scientifically studied for this effect. We assessed and compared the effects of dried plums and psyllium in patients with chronic constipation.”
The participants of the study were given a daily dose of 50 grams of dried plums, providing 6 grams of fiber for three weeks. They were also given a daily dose of 11 grams of psyllium, providing 6 grams of fiber for three weeks. The researchers monitored the participants’ bowel movements, and kept a record of the complete spontaneous bowel movements that occurred per week; the global relief of constipation; the consistency of the stool; and the amount of strain that was associated with each bowel movement. In addition, the researchers questioned the participants about the taste of the fiber supplements and how palatable they found each supplement to be.
The participants found the dried plums and psyllium to be equally palatable, and both supplements helped to improve constipation. There was no difference in the amount of straining between the two supplements, and neither alternative caused gas or bloating. However, the dried plums outperformed the psyllium in two ways. First, the dried plums produced a measurably higher amount of spontaneous bowel movements per week. Second, the dried plums improved the consistency of the stools significantly more than the psyllium. The researchers concluded that dried plums are more effective for the treatment of mild to moderate constipation and stated that “prunes should be considered as first-line therapy.”
Study results aside, prunes are arguably the best treatment method for constipation because taking them provides a slew of additional health benefits. Prunes contain sorbitol, which works as a natural and gentle laxative in the body, helping to reduce blood pressure. They also contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which makes them excellent at not only relieving constipation but also improving overall colon health. In addition, prunes are rich in vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants. The nutritional profile of prunes makes them excellent for skin health and immunity and they may help increase bone mass and reduce the risk for osteoporosis. For the best results, consume half a cup of pitted prunes (50 grams, or approximately seven prunes) daily and be sure to consume plenty of water with them.