Grapefruits have long been touted as a superfood with a myriad of health benefits. One of the most well-known claims about grapefruits is that they can act as a natural laxative. But is this true? Do grapefruits really have laxative properties?
What Is a Laxative?
Before examining whether grapefruits are laxatives, it’s helpful to understand what exactly a laxative is. Laxatives are substances that help promote bowel movements and relieve constipation. They work by increasing the movement of stool through the intestines or by allowing more water to remain in the stool to soften it.
There are several different types of laxatives:
- Stimulant laxatives – These encourage bowel movements by increasing muscle contractions in the intestines. Examples include bisacodyl and cascara.
- Stool softeners – These allow more water to remain in the stool so it passes more easily. Examples include docusate and mineral oil.
- Osmotic laxatives – These help draw water into the intestines from surrounding body tissues. Examples include magnesium salts, lactulose, and polyethylene glycol.
- Lubricant laxatives – These coat the stool and intestinal lining for easier passage. Examples include mineral oil.
The key function of any laxative is to either soften the stool, increase intestinal contractions, or draw water into the intestines. This helps stimulate a bowel movement for someone who is constipated.
Do Grapefruits Have Laxative Effects?
So do grapefruits actually have laxative properties? The answer is yes, grapefruits can act as a natural laxative for several reasons:
- High water content – Grapefruits are very high in water, about 91% water by weight. Eating grapefruit provides a good amount of fluid to help soften stool and stimulate a bowel movement.
- Fiber – Grapefruits contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps food and waste pass more quickly through the intestines. Soluble fiber helps absorb water.
- Naringin – This flavonoid found in grapefruits is thought to have a laxative effect by stimulating the intestines.
The high fluid and fiber content of grapefruits alone provides some natural laxative activity. But research also indicates the specific phytochemicals in grapefruits can stimulate contractions in the intestines to help trigger bowel movements.
Studies on Grapefruits and Laxative Effects
Several studies have looked specifically at whether grapefruits act as an effective laxative:
- A 2006 study found that eating a grapefruit every day for 2 weeks significantly increased bowel movements compared to not eating grapefruit, in patients with functional constipation.
- Another study from 2006 showed that drinking 8 oz of grapefruit juice three times per day for 3 days increased bowel movement frequency and improved constipation symptoms in chronically constipated older adults.
- Multiple studies have shown grapefruit juice stimulates contraction-like movements in the small intestine, supporting its role as a laxative.
- In a 2010 study, researchers found grapefruit juice acted as an intestinal stimulant and laxative by triggering smooth muscle contractions via activation of certain enzymes.
Overall, the evidence indicates that consuming grapefruit or grapefruit juice regularly can help treat mild symptoms of constipation and have a laxative effect for many people.
Active Compounds in Grapefruits
What are the active compounds in grapefruits responsible for its laxative abilities?
A few specific phytochemicals and nutrients seem to contribute to the laxative effects of grapefruits:
- Naringin – This flavonoid has been shown to stimulate muscle contractions in the intestines to help move stool. It also helps draw more water into the colon.
- Naringenin – This metabolite of naringin also activates contractions in the intestinal tract.
- Vitamin C – Grapefruits are very high in vitamin C, which helps pull water into the colon and acts as an antioxidant.
- Potassium – The mineral potassium helps balance fluids and stimulates muscle movement in the intestines.
These compounds work together to produce a laxative effect. However, it’s important to keep in mind that grapefruits contain dozens of active plant chemicals that likely all contribute to its effects on the gastrointestinal system.
How Many Grapefruits for a Laxative Effect?
Eating just one serving of grapefruit or drinking one glass of grapefruit juice may provide a good amount of fiber, fluids, and phytochemicals to trigger a bowel movement. However, the studies showing significant laxative effects often used higher amounts of grapefruits or grapefruit juice, such as:
- 1 whole grapefruit 3 times per day
- 8 oz of grapefruit juice 3 times per day
- 16 oz of doubled-strength grapefruit juice twice per day
To see the best laxative results, aim for at least one whole grapefruit or 8 ounces of juice 2-3 times daily. Keep in mind grapefruit juice works more quickly than eating the whole fruit.
Grapefruit Fiber and Laxative Effect
The fiber content of grapefruits is important for their laxative abilities. A medium grapefruit provides about 2 grams of fiber. This is divided into:
- 1.1 grams insoluble fiber
- 0.9 grams soluble fiber
Insoluble fiber helps move stool through the intestines for an easier bowel movement. Soluble fiber soaks up water in the intestines to help soften and add bulk to stool.
Make sure to eat the pulp and inner filaments of grapefruit to get all of its fiber. Or choose grapefruit juice with pulp when possible.
Best Time to Eat Grapefruit for Laxative Effect
Because it acts as a stimulant laxative, it’s best to consume grapefruit first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This allows its compounds to reach the intestines rapidly to help stimulate a bowel movement.
Drinking a large glass of grapefruit juice as soon as you wake up or eating half a grapefruit before breakfast are good times.
You can continue eating grapefruit or drinking the juice throughout the day as well. But the first morning serving on an empty stomach provides the biggest laxative boost.
Laxative Warning for Medications
If you take any medications, check with your doctor before eating grapefruit or drinking the juice. Grapefruits can interact with some medications and affect how they are broken down in the body.
For example, grapefruit can increase blood levels of statins, benzodiazepines, immunosuppressants, and calcium channel blockers. This could increase side effects of these medications.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any medication interactions with grapefruits. You may need to separate taking your medications and consuming grapefruit by a few hours to avoid problems.
Other Grapefruit Health Benefits
In addition to their laxative properties, grapefruits offer many other advantages related to heart health, digestive health, immunity, skin health, and stability of blood sugar levels. Some of the top health benefits include:
- High in immune-boosting vitamin C
- Source of antioxidants like lycopene and beta-carotene
- May help control blood pressure
- May help manage blood sugar levels
- Contains compounds that may reduce cancer risk
- Phytochemicals may benefit heart and artery health
- Helps keep skin hydrated and flexible
Grapefruits provide a powerhouse package of protective plant compounds, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water – all contributing to their superfood status.
Here are some tasty and healthy ways to enjoy grapefruits to benefit from their laxative effects:
Sparkling Grapefruit Juice
- 1 cup grapefruit juice (white or pink)
- 1⁄2 cup water
- Sparkling water
- Mint leaves for garnish (optional)
- Mix grapefruit juice and water in a glass.
- Top with sparkling water.
- Garnish with mint.
- Enjoy chilled!
- 1 large grapefruit, halved
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp butter
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Cut grapefruit in half horizontally.
- Top each half with 1 tsp honey, 1/2 tsp brown sugar, and 1/2 tsp butter.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon.
- Bake for 5-10 minutes until brown sugar is bubbly.
- 1 cup grapefruit segments
- 1 banana
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1⁄4 cup orange juice
- 2 tbsp honey
- In a blender, blend all ingredients except ice until smooth.
- Add ice and blend again until frothy.
- Pour into glasses and enjoy!
Safety and Side Effects
For most people, eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice is generally considered safe and healthy. But there are some potential side effects and cautions to be aware of:
- May interact with certain medications, as described earlier.
- The acidity may worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn symptoms.
- Consuming very large amounts could lead to diarrhea.
- Grapefruit juice may cause enamel erosion due to acidity.
- The juice can interact with alcohol and cause nausea and headaches in some people.
Check with your doctor before using grapefruit as a laxative if you have irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea, or chronic gut issues. And consult your doctor about any medications you take.
When consuming moderate amounts, most people can safely take advantage of the many health benefits of grapefruits, including their useful laxative effects.
Grapefruits can be an effective natural laxative due to their fiber, water content, and beneficial plant compounds. Studies show grapefruit juice helps increase bowel movements and improve constipation, especially when consumed regularly. To experience the laxative benefits, aim for 1 whole grapefruit or 8 ounces of grapefruit juice one to three times daily. Grapefruit is also packed with other valuable nutrients and antioxidants that support overall health.
|Type of Fiber in Grapefruits