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Do cherries loosen your bowels?

Many people enjoy the sweet, tart flavor of cherries. These colorful fruits make a tasty snack and can be used in a variety of recipes. But some people report that eating cherries causes them to have loose stools or diarrhea. Is there any truth to the idea that cherries have a laxative effect?

What Are Cherries?

Cherries are stone fruits that grow on cherry trees. There are two main types – sweet cherries (Prunus avium) and sour cherries (Prunus cerasus). Sweet cherries are often eaten fresh, while sour cherries are more commonly used in cooking.

Some common cherry varieties include:

  • Bing – large, sweet, deep red cherry
  • Rainier – yellow with a pinkish-red blush, very sweet
  • Brooks – medium, maroon-colored, sweet
  • Montmorency – small, bright red, tart cherry used in pies
  • Maraschino – light red, sweet cherry often preserved in sugar syrup

Cherries contain fiber, vitamins C and A, calcium, iron, and potassium. They are also a good source of antioxidants like anthocyanins and quercetin.

Do Cherries Have Laxative Effects?

Some people do report loose stools or diarrhea after eating cherries. There are a few possible reasons for this:

Fiber Content

Cherries contain fiber, with 1 cup providing 3 grams. The fiber in cherries is insoluble fiber from the cherry skins.

Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps move material through the digestive tract more quickly. For some people, the insoluble fiber in cherries may act as a natural laxative and cause loose stools.

Fructose

Cherries also contain the natural sugar fructose. 1 cup of cherries provides about 4 grams of fructose.

Fructose is not as easily absorbed in the small intestine compared to other sugars. Unabsorbed fructose travels to the large intestine where it draws water into the digestive tract via osmosis. This can result in loose stools.

People with fructose malabsorption may experience diarrhea after eating high fructose foods like cherries.

Sorbitol

Cherries, along with prunes and apples, also contain sorbitol – a sugar alcohol that can act as a laxative for some people.

Sorbitol is considered a FODMAP – a group of indigestible carbohydrates that can cause digestive issues like diarrhea and bloating for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

How Many Cherries Cause Diarrhea?

The amount of cherries that will cause diarrhea can vary greatly among individuals. It depends on your individual tolerance and sensitivity to compounds like fiber, fructose and sorbitol.

In one small study, people without fructose malabsorption did not experience diarrhea or GI distress after eating 1 pound of cherries (about 225 cherries).

However, other studies show people with IBS may react to smaller doses of high FODMAP foods like cherries. One study found that 19 grams of sorbitol, equal to about 7-19 cherries, was enough to provoke symptoms in IBS patients.

So people with IBS or fructose malabsorption may experience diarrhea and abdominal discomfort from just 1/2 to 1 cup of cherries. Those without these conditions can generally tolerate larger portions.

Other Cherry Parts That May Cause Diarrhea

Most of the focus has been on the flesh of cherries potentially causing diarrhea. But other parts of the cherry may also contribute.

Cherry Stems

The stems and pits of cherries could also play a role. Some people eat cherries whole, chewing or swallowing the stems and pits. Cherry stems contain fiber that may loosen stool, especially in large quantities.

Cherry pits also contain amygdalin, which can break down into hydrogen cyanide in the digestive tract. Ingesting cherry pits has caused cyanide poisoning in some rare cases.

Cherry Juice

Drinking cherry juice provides concentrated amounts of nutrients and compounds like sugar and sorbitol.

One cup of tart cherry juice has 62 grams of natural sugars. This could pull water into the intestines and potentially cause diarrhea if you drink large amounts.

Cherry Type Fiber (per cup) Fructose (per cup) Sorbitol (per cup)
Raw sweet cherries 3 grams 4 grams 5.5 mg
Raw sour cherries 2 grams 4 grams 4.5 mg
Canned sweet cherries 2 grams 15 grams 10 mg
Cherry juice concentrate 1 gram 62 grams 20 mg

This table shows the fiber, fructose and sorbitol content in 1 cup portions of different cherry products. Canned cherries and juice concentrate provide more fructose and sorbitol than fresh cherries.

Tips to Prevent Cherry-Induced Diarrhea

Here are some tips to eat cherries without getting diarrhea:

  • Avoid eating large quantities at once. 1/2 – 1 cup portion is a good starting point.
  • Drink cherry juice diluted with water, rather than straight.
  • Avoid cherry stems and pits.
  • Spread out cherry intake throughout the day.
  • Choose sweet cherries over tart cherries, which are higher in sorbitol.
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication to slow transit time.

Introducing cherries slowly and in small amounts can help your body adjust and minimize loose stools.

When to See a Doctor

Mild diarrhea from eating too many cherries will usually resolve on its own. But see your doctor if you experience:

  • Severe or persistent diarrhea lasting more than 2 days
  • Bloody stool
  • Dehydration symptoms like excessive thirst, dry mouth, and dark urine
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Unintended weight loss

These could be signs of a more serious digestive condition, like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease warranting medical attention.

Let your doctor know if you suspect certain foods like cherries are triggering diarrhea so they can help diagnose and treat the issue.

The Bottom Line

Cherries are a nutritious fruit that some people claim can cause diarrhea. The fiber, fructose, and sorbitol in cherries may contribute to loose stools in sensitive individuals or when eaten in large quantities. Those with IBS and fructose intolerance are most prone to diarrhea from cherries.

Moderate portions are recommended, especially when introducing cherries for the first time. Avoiding pits, stems and drinking diluted juice may also reduce the risk of diarrhea. Most importantly, see a doctor if you have severe, persistent or bloody diarrhea after eating cherries or other foods.