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Are There Natural Remedies for Constipation?

A number of natural remedies for constipation work very well. You may not have heard of eating two kiwifruit a day.
Are There Natural Remedies for Constipation?
Kiwi fruit

Constipation is a very common complaint. While doctors rarely become concerned about constipation unless the patient seems to have obstructed bowels, sufferers find that this problem really affects their quality of life. Sadly, some become dependent upon laxatives. Others want to avoid such medications and wish they had access to natural remedies for constipation. Luckily, there are a few that are neither risky nor expensive.

What Natural Remedies for Constipation Might You Try?

Q. Are there any natural remedies for constipation in older people? I don’t want to take a laxative. My mother used to recommend prune juice. However, this raises my blood sugar. What can I do?

A. Usually, the first suggestion for overcoming constipation is to get more fiber. Often this could be in the form of prunes or possibly psyllium, the soluble fiber in Metamucil. Adding extra vegetables and fruit to the diet can be quite effective.

Kiwifruit as Natural Remedies for Constipation:

Recently, scientists presented evidence at a virtual conference of the American College of Gastroenterology. Their research demonstrates that eating fresh kiwifruit (two a day) works about as well as psyllium or prunes. In addition, people eating kiwi fruit were less likely to report bloating, pain or gas as a side effect. There were 79 middle-aged adults in the study who consumed kiwi fruit, psyllium or prunes daily for four weeks. The participants ranked stool frequency, stool consistency and straining.

This kiwifruit study is not unique. Research from New Zealand revealed similar results (Journal of Nutrition Science, May 2019). Moreover, previous research showed that kiwifruit could reduce symptoms of constipation among individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010). Presumably, the fiber in kiwifruit is partly responsible for its effectiveness. Fortunately, kiwifruit does not appear to speed the passage of gas through the digestive system (Neurogastroenterology and Motility, Sep. 2020). 

Reader Endorses Kiwifruit in Testimonial:

Q. The past few years I have tried several different products to avoid being constipated. In one of your articles, you suggested eating kiwifruit as a regulator.

I tried it and the results were amazing. I eat one at night, and by the morning all is back to normal. There are no cramps, gas or any of the usual uncomfortable side effects. My only problem is what happens when kiwifruit is not in season and I can’t find them in the store.

A. We are delighted that this simple, natural suggestion is working for you. A recent trial found that kiwifruit was as effective as the old standbys, prunes or psyllium, for increasing frequency, improving stool consistency and reducing straining (American Journal of Gastroenterology, June 1, 2021).  In addition, volunteers reported fewer side effects, especially bloating.

Although kiwifruit are not as readily available in grocery stores as apples or bananas, they grow in both Northern and Southern hemispheres. Consequently, you should be able to purchase them throughout much of the year.

You can learn more about managing constipation and avoiding drugs that could make it worse in our eGuide to Controlling Constipation. Both this and the eGuide to Overcoming Digestive Disorders provide non-drug treatments as well as discussion of medication pros and cons.

Other Natural Remedies for Constipation:

Our readers have written about numerous other natural options for treating constipation. Some advocate consuming water in which they have simmered flaxseed. On the other hand, bran cereals or pumpkin bran muffins are popular natural remedies for constipation. We have a recipe for those muffins as well as for Power Pudding (wheat bran, prune juice and applesauce) in our eGuide to Overcoming Digestive Disorders

An Old-Fashioned Laxative Recipe:

We recently received this letter from a reader with one of the classic natural remedies for constipation:

Q. I have a time-tested homemade laxative recipe I would like to share with your readers. Combine 1 cup chopped pitted prunes, 1 cup chopped pitted dates and 11/2 cups boiling water. Simmer until the water has evaporated. Store in the refrigerator and take 2 tablespoons per night.

A. Prunes are often used for their laxative properties. An analysis of four clinical trials found that prunes were better than psyllium (Metamucil) for increasing stool frequency (Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Oct. 2014).

A more recent study compared “prune essence concentrates” (PEC) with a prune-flavored placebo drink. Not only did the PEC improve intestinal function, it also lowered total cholesterol and LDL-C (Pharmaceutical Biology, Dec. 2017). 

Don’t Forget Psyllium:

Because blood sugar is a concern, you should be checking yours regularly. Consequently, you may want to consider using psyllium for regularity. Beyond its effects promoting bowel evacuation, this fiber helps reduce both fasting blood sugar and HbA1c as well as triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (Phytotherapy Research, June 2020). 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Eady SL et al, "The effect of 'Zesy002' kiwifruit ( Actinidia chinensis var. chinensis) on gut health function: a randomised cross-over clinical trial." Journal of Nutrition Science, May 2019. DOI: 10.1017/jns.2019.14
  • Chang C-C et al, "Kiwifruit improves bowel function in patients with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation." Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010.
  • Caballero N et al, "The effect of green kiwifruit on gas transit and tolerance in healthy humans." Neurogastroenterology and Motility, Sep. 2020. DOI: 10.1111/nmo.13874
  • Chey SW et al, "Exploratory comparative effectiveness trial of green kiwifruit, psyllium, or prunes in US patients with chronic constipation." American Journal of Gastroenterology, June 1, 2021. DOI: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000001149
  • Lever E et al, " Systematic review: the effect of prunes on gastrointestinal function." Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Oct. 2014. DOI: 10.1111/apt.12913
  • Chiu H-F et al, "Regulatory/modulatory effect of prune essence concentrate on intestinal function and blood lipids." Pharmaceutical Biology, Dec. 2017. DOI: 10.1080/13880209.2017.1285323
  • Xiao Z et al, "The effect of psyllium consumption on weight, body mass index, lipid profile, and glucose metabolism in diabetic patients: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." Phytotherapy Research, June 2020). DOI: 10.1002/ptr.6609
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