Constipation and irregular bowel movements are common issues that affect many people. With approximately 14% of adults reporting issues with constipation, finding remedies to help promote regularity is important for overall health and wellbeing.
Pickles are a popular food that some claim can help get things moving in the bathroom. With their combination of fiber, probiotics, and fluids, pickles seem like they could be a promising natural remedy for constipation.
But do pickles really help with bowel movements? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
What Are Pickles?
Pickles refer to fruits or vegetables that have been preserved in a solution of vinegar, brine, or something similar. Some common types of pickles include:
- Cabbage (sauerkraut)
- Green beans
- Fruits like watermelon rind or lemons
The pickling process helps preserve these foods by creating an environment where bacteria can’t easily grow. This allows pickles to be stored for months while maintaining freshness and crunch.
Nutrients in Pickles
Most pickles are relatively low in calories but pack a decent amount of nutrients.
Some of the key nutrients found in pickles include:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
The specific amounts can vary depending on the type of pickle, but cucumbers pickled in brine tend to be especially high in vitamin K and probiotics.
Benefits for Bowel Movements
There are a few key reasons why pickles may be beneficial for constipation and bowel regularity:
Pickles can be a good source of fiber, providing 1–3 grams per 1⁄2–1 cup serving depending on variety. Fiber helps add bulk to stool and promotes regularity.
The high water content in pickles can help soften stool and keep you hydrated, both important factors for easy bowel movements.
Fermented pickles contain healthy probiotics, which support gut health and digestion. Specific probiotic strains like lactobacillus have been shown to reduce constipation.
Compounds in pickles like acetic acid and certain antioxidants may stimulate digestion. This could potentially help speed transit time and make bowel movements more regular.
Do Pickles Make You Poop? The Evidence
Some limited studies provide evidence that pickles may be beneficial for bowel function:
- A 2019 study found that kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish similar to sauerkraut, helped reduce constipation symptoms and improve stool consistency in patients with chronic constipation.
- Multiple studies show pickles and other fermented foods can increase the diversity of gut bacteria, which is important for digestive health.
- Specific probiotic strains used to ferment pickles have been shown to decrease gut transit time, soften stool, and increase bowel movements in people with constipation.
However, more research is still needed looking specifically at pickles to confirm these beneficial effects on bowel function.
Other Potential Digestive Benefits
In addition to possibly promoting regularity, pickles offer other benefits for digestive health:
- Supports gut bacteria – The probiotics in fermented pickles can increase levels of healthy gut bacteria.
- Aids mineral absorption – Fermented foods help make minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium more bioavailable.
- Boosts immunity – The probiotics may strengthen the gut immune response.
- Helps manage acid reflux – The vinegar in pickles can have an alkalizing effect to neutralize stomach acid.
Are There Any Downsides?
For most people, pickles are safe to consume and provide nutritional benefits. However, there are a few downsides to consider:
- High sodium content – Pickles, especially those in brine, tend to be very high in sodium. This may exacerbate high blood pressure.
- Not good for kidney disease – The high potassium and sodium levels can be problematic for people with impaired kidney function.
- Possibly unsafe when pregnant – The bacteria used to ferment pickles could on rare occasion cause illness, so pregnant women should use caution.
As long as you are mindful of the sodium content and don’t overdo portion sizes, pickles are generally healthy in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.
Tips for Adding Pickles to Your Diet
Here are some easy ways to incorporate more pickles into your meals and snacks:
- Enjoy a small side of pickles with meals
- Add pickles to sandwiches and burgers
- Use pickled onions or peppers to top tacos or salad
- Drink the leftover pickle juice
- Blend pickles into tuna or egg salad
- Add pickled veggies to grain bowls or Buddha bowls
- Use pickled jalapeños or banana peppers to spice up pizza
Other Remedies for Constipation
While pickles may help with bowel movements, they likely won’t resolve chronic constipation on their own. Some other remedies to consider include:
- Drink more fluids
- Eat more high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains
- Exercise regularly
- Limit dairy if lactose intolerant
- Follow a schedule for bowel movements
- Reduce stress
- Take supplements like magnesium or probiotics
- Use laxatives as needed if diet changes don’t work (under a doctor’s supervision)
When to See a Doctor
Occasional constipation is common and usually not a major cause for concern. However, see your doctor if you experience:
- Changes in bowel habits lasting more than 2 weeks
- Blood in the stool
- Persistent abdominal pain or cramping
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constant straining when having a bowel movement
These symptoms could potentially indicate an underlying digestive issue that needs medical attention. Older adults who suddenly develop constipation should also consult their physician.
The Bottom Line
Pickles appear to have some potential benefits for bowel function and constipation relief. The fiber, fluid, probiotics, and nutrients in pickles may help soften and add bulk to stool while promoting regularity.
However, more studies specifically looking at pickles are needed. In the meantime, adding some probiotic-rich fermented pickles to your diet certainly won’t hurt and can provide other digestive perks. Just be mindful of limiting portion sizes if you need to watch your sodium intake.
While pickles may be a handy home remedy for irregularity, make sure to consult your doctor if you have persistent bowel issues or notice any worrying digestive symptoms.