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Dried Plums: New Name, Same “Regularity” Benefits

March 21, 2011

No one likes talking about it, but constipation is a pervasive health issue for many. Too often, people reach for laxatives as a quick fix and can get so used to them that they lose the ability to “go” without them. Others take fiber pills or drink liquids to help bowel health, with some success. But many nutritionists advocate eating natural fiber in the form of whole grains and fresh vegetables and fruits. A new study shows that taking this natural route with good old-fashioned dried plums (the fruit formerly known as prunes, whose name developed such a negative public image that the change was instituted) should be considered first to manage mild to moderate constipation in the general population.

“Treatment of chronic constipation remains challenging, with 50 percent of patients dissatisfied with current therapy,” explains lead researcher Satish Rao MD, PhD, of the division of gastroenterology-hepatology in the department of internal medicine at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “There is an unmet need for natural, safe alternatives. 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.” Forty adult constipated subjects were enrolled in an 8-week, single-blind, randomized crossover study. Participants received a total of 6 grams of fiber from either 50 grams of dried plums (about 5-6) eaten twice a day or 11 grams of psyllium (1 tablespoon psyllium) taken in water twice a day for 3 weeks each. They kept a daily symptom and stool diary to help assess the number of complete spontaneous bowel movements (CSBM) per week, global relief of constipation, stool consistency, straining, tolerability and taste.

The number of CSBMs per week and stool consistency scores improved significantly with dried plums when compared to psyllium. Global constipation symptoms improved with dried plums and psyllium, but there was no difference between treatments. Dried plums and psyllium were rated as equally palatable and both were safe and well tolerated. Citing literature on the prevalence of constipation, Dr. Rao explained, “Constipation is a common problem that affects up to 20 percent of the world’s population. Nearly 60 million Americans suffer from chronic constipation. Many people are looking for a natural, food-based solution to over-the-counter laxatives and fiber supplements. We were pleased that our research demonstrated that dried plums are safe, palatable and more effective than psyllium for the treatment of mild to moderate constipation.”

This research was not the first to demonstrate health benefits from eating dried plums. Research by Bernard Halloran, PhD, San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center, discovered that a diet incorporating powdered dried plum restored bone lost by mice (equivalent to middle-aged and 60 to 70 year-old people) during the course of normal aging. Dried plums contain many compounds such as copper, boron, vitamin K and potassium, which could contribute to bone health.