Are cherries a good laxative?

Constipation is a common condition affecting people of all ages. It occurs when stool passes through the large intestine too slowly, becoming hard, dry and difficult to eliminate. Constipation has many possible causes, including inadequate fiber and fluid intake, lack of exercise, various medications, and certain medical conditions. Though rarely serious, constipation causes uncomfortable symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, and a sense of incomplete evacuation after bowel movements. Over-the-counter laxatives provide short-term relief, but lifestyle changes and natural remedies can have longer lasting effects without the side effects of laxatives.

Some natural food remedies are thought to help relieve constipation due to their fiber content, fluid content, natural laxative compounds, and overall nutrient profile. Cherries are one such food that may promote regularity. This article explores whether cherries are an effective natural laxative.

Fiber Content of Cherries

One reason cherries may help relieve constipation is their fiber content. Dietary fiber normalizes bowel movements by adding bulk and moisture to stool. This helps move waste through the intestines more efficiently. Soluble fiber also feeds the healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome that assist with digestion.

One cup of raw cherries contains about 3 grams of fiber. Though modest compared to other high fiber foods like beans, the fiber in cherries can contribute to your daily recommended intake along with other sources.

Food Serving Size Total Fiber (grams)
Cherries 1 cup raw 3
Lentils 1 cup cooked 16
Oats 1 cup cooked 4
Broccoli 1 cup chopped, cooked 5

The recommended daily intake of fiber is around 25-30 grams per day. Getting fiber from a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds is ideal for bowel regularity.

Fluid Content

Another potentially constipating characteristic of cherries is their high fluid content. Cherries are over 80% water. Staying hydrated is key for preventing constipation, as water and other liquids help keep stool soft.

Some examples of the water content in fruits and vegetables:

Food % Water
Cherries 82%
Grapes 81%
Watermelon 92%
Tomatoes 95%
Leafy greens 85-95%

Consuming fruits and vegetables with a high water content like cherries helps increase fluid intake to prevent dehydration and promote regular bowel movements.

Sorbitol Content

Cherries contain a natural sugar alcohol called sorbitol that may have a laxative effect. Many fruits contain sorbitol, but cherries are particularly high in this compound. Approximately 7-9% of the carbohydrates in cherries consist of sorbitol.

Sorbitol is poorly absorbed by the body, so it pulls water into the large intestine by osmosis. This increases stool volume and stimulates contractions to move stool along. Sorbitol and other sugar alcohols are considered fodmaps – foods that may exacerbate digestive issues like gas, bloating and constipation in some individuals.

While sorbitol may act as a laxative, excess intake can lead to cramping and diarrhea. Moderating cherry intake to 1-2 servings daily and limiting other high sorbitol foods may help avoid GI distress.

Other Nutrients and Benefits

In addition to fiber and fluids, cherries provide other nutrients that benefit digestive health:

  • Antioxidants like anthocyanins give cherries anti-inflammatory properties. This may improve gut barrier function.
  • Melatonin helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythms. Adequate sleep promotes regularity.
  • Quercetin acts as a prebiotic to feed healthy gut flora.
  • Vitamin C aids immunity and wound healing in the GI tract.
  • Trace minerals like copper help form digestive enzymes.

The combination of nutrients and plant compounds in cherries work together to support overall gut health and regularity. However, cherries alone are unlikely to cure chronic constipation without other dietary and lifestyle measures.

Potential Downsides of Cherries as a Laxative

Despite their potential benefits, relying solely on cherries or other fruits as laxatives also has some risks:

  • High sugar intake from fruit can worsen diarrhea.
  • Excess sorbitol consumption can cause bloating and cramping.
  • Fiber can make constipation worse if fluid intake is insufficient.
  • Laxative dependency may develop with chronic use.

Cherries and other fruits should not be used as quick fixes for chronic constipation without addressing the underlying causes. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and get adequate exercise when increasing fiber intake from fruits like cherries as part of a balanced diet.

Studies on Cherries and Constipation

Very few studies have looked specifically at the laxative effects of cherries.

One 2013 study in rats found that tart cherry juice reduced some signs of constipation versus a control group. However, this effect was likely due to the high sorbitol content, which may not apply to humans consuming normal amounts.

Another study in senior nursing home residents compared the effects of consuming either prunes or cherry juice concentrate. Stool weight increased in both groups, indicating improved bowel function. But prunes produced a laxative effect more quickly.

Overall, current research on the laxative effects of cherries is very limited. More evidence is needed to confirm their efficacy as a natural constipation aid in humans.

Recommended Intake for Laxative Effect

There is no standardized dosage for using cherries as a laxative. However, the following daily intake may help support regularity:

  • 1-2 servings of fresh cherries (~1-2 cups)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup tart cherry juice
  • Limit cherry juice concentrate to 2 oz maximum due to high sorbitol content

Spreading cherry intake throughout the day in smaller portions may help avoid adverse effects from excess sorbitol. Drink plenty of non-diuretic fluids like water or herbal tea to stay hydrated as well.

Be sure to avoid overdoing it, as excessive consumption of cherries could make diarrhea worse. Those with diabetes or fructose intolerance should be cautious with portion sizes as well.

The Bottom Line

Cherries may have a mild laxative effect for some people thanks to their fiber, fluid and sorbitol content. However, cherries are not a magic bullet against constipation. For chronic issues, see a doctor to address any underlying causes.

A well-rounded diet with plenty of fiber and fluids, daily exercise, and healthy bowel habits can promote lasting regularity. Cherries and other fruits can complement these lifestyle measures as part of a balanced approach to digestive health.

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