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Does orange juice work as a laxative?

Orange juice is a popular beverage that many people enjoy as part of a balanced breakfast. Some claim that drinking orange juice can also help relieve constipation due to its natural laxative effects. In this article, we’ll explore whether orange juice truly acts as a laxative and the evidence behind these claims.

What is Constipation?

Constipation refers to infrequent, difficult, or incomplete bowel movements. It occurs when the colon absorbs too much water from food waste, causing stools to become hard and dry. This makes them difficult to pass. Constipation is generally diagnosed when someone has fewer than three bowel movements per week or stools are hard, dry, and difficult to pass.

Some common symptoms of constipation include:

  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Hard, lumpy stools
  • Sensation of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement
  • Abdominal pain or bloating

Occasional constipation is very common and usually not a cause for concern. However, chronic constipation may require medical treatment to help restore regular bowel function.

What Causes Constipation?

There are many possible causes of constipation, including:

  • Inadequate fiber intake
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Medications like opioids
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Changes in routine or travel
  • Ignoring urge to have a bowel movement
  • Specific diseases like diabetes or neurological conditions

The most common cause is inadequate fiber and fluid intake. Fiber adds bulk to stool and helps it move smoothly through the colon. Dehydration can cause stools to become hard and dry. Physical activity also encourages regular bowel movements.

Do Laxatives Help Relieve Constipation?

Laxatives are substances that help increase bowel movements and soften stools to allow easier passage. They work in various ways, such as:

  • Stimulant laxatives – Increase muscle contractions in the intestines
  • Stool softeners – Add moisture to stools
  • Osmotic laxatives – Help retain fluid in the colon
  • Bulk-forming laxatives – Absorb liquid and expand to create softer, bulky stools

When used occasionally, laxatives can effectively provide short-term relief from constipation by inducing bowel movements. However, they are not meant for long-term use. Relying too heavily on laxatives can potentially cause side effects like diarrhea, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances.

Does Orange Juice Have Natural Laxative Effects?

Some people claim that drinking orange juice can help stimulate bowel movements due to certain components:

Fiber

Orange juice contains a small amount of fiber, with about 0.5 grams per cup. Fiber helps add bulk to stool and pull water into the colon to allow easier passage. However, the fiber content in orange juice is relatively low compared to other high fiber foods.

Citric Acid

Oranges are a rich source of citric acid, which gives them their tart, acidic taste. Some research indicates citric acid may help speed up transit time in the colon. One study found drinking a beverage with citric acid shortened colonic transit time compared to plain water.

Fluid Content

Staying hydrated is key for preventing constipation. Orange juice may help contribute to daily fluid intake, with about 112 grams of water per cup. Fluids help soften stool and allow it to move smoothly through the colon.

Sorbitol

Oranges contain a small amount of sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that acts as an osmotic laxative. Sorbitol pulls water into the colon to soften and loosen stool. Too much sorbitol can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. The sorbitol content in orange juice is low.

Evidence on Orange Juice and Constipation Relief

Very few studies have looked specifically at orange juice and its effects on constipation. Here is a summary of the existing research:

Small Clinical Study in Adults

One small study in adults with functional constipation found that drinking 500 mL (about 2 cups) of orange juice daily increased bowel movement frequency and improved consistency. However, the study did not include a control group.

Group Baseline BM Frequency BM Frequency After 7 Days of Orange Juice
Orange juice group (n=12) 3.5 per week 7.8 per week

Study in Children

A study in children with chronic functional constipation found that drinking orange juice with added fiber for 4 weeks increased bowel movement frequency compared to a control juice without fiber.

Group BM Frequency at Baseline BM Frequency After 4 Weeks
Orange juice with fiber (n=30) 3.2 per week 5.7 per week
Control juice (n=30) 3.3 per week 3.9 per week

Anecdotal Evidence

There are many anecdotal reports online of people who find that drinking orange juice helps provide constipation relief and facilitates more regular bowel movements. However, robust clinical evidence is still lacking.

How Could Orange Juice Help with Constipation?

While data is limited, there are some ways orange juice could potentially help provide constipation relief:

  • The fluid increases overall water consumption to help soften stool.
  • The citric acid may help speed up transit time in the colon.
  • The small amount of fiber adds some bulk to stool.
  • Sorbitol has a mild osmotic laxative effect.

However, the impacts likely depend on the individual and how severe their constipation is. Orange juice may provide more relief for mild, occasional constipation. Severe, chronic constipation often requires more intensive treatment.

Recommended Intake for Constipation Relief

Most sources recommend drinking around 8 ounces (250ml) to 12 ounces (350ml) of orange juice daily to help relieve mild constipation. This equates to about 1-2 cups.

Drink it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and wait 30 minutes before eating breakfast. This allows it to move through your digestive tract without other foods blocking it.

It may take 2-3 days of consistent intake to notice improvements in bowel movements. Be sure to also drink plenty of other fluids throughout the day as well.

Downsides of Using Orange Juice as a Laxative

While orange juice may be helpful for occasional constipation, there are some downsides to consider:

  • Not a long-term solution – Dependent laxative use can worsen constipation over time.
  • High in sugar – 1 cup has 21g of sugar. Too much can cause weight gain.
  • May trigger acid reflux in some people due to acidity.
  • Fructose malabsorption – Some people don’t absorb fructose well.
  • Drinking too much can lead to diarrhea.

It’s best to use orange juice in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet. Those with chronic constipation issues should seek medical advice.

Other Home Remedies for Constipation

Orange juice is one option, but there are many other home remedies that can help get things moving:

  • Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of water and fluids like fruit/veg juices.
  • Exercise – Any physical activity helps increase motility.
  • Eat more fiber – Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • Try probiotics – Can improve gut health and function.
  • Drink coffee – The caffeine stimulates the colon.
  • Eat prunes – Contains fiber and sorbitol to help laxation.

Making dietary changes like eating more fiber, staying active, and drinking more fluids can help improve constipation in many cases. Try combining remedies for the best effects.

When to See a Doctor

Occasional constipation is usually nothing to worry about. However, you may need to seek medical help if you experience:

  • No bowel movements for 3+ days
  • Hard, painful stools
  • Bleeding from straining
  • Persistent abdominal pain or vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant use of laxatives

Chronic, severe, or persistent constipation may require prescription laxatives, tests for underlying conditions, or referral to a gastroenterologist. Don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor if home remedies aren’t working.

The Bottom Line

There is limited evidence that drinking orange juice can help relieve constipation, likely due to its fluid content, citric acid, and sorbitol. It may stimulate bowel movements in some people. However, it shouldn’t be used long-term.

While orange juice can be part of an overall diet to ease occasional constipation, make sure to also focus on getting more fiber, fluids, exercise and address any underlying causes. See a doctor for persistent or severe symptoms.

In most cases, orange juice can be a safe, inexpensive home remedy to try when you’re feeling backed up. But pair it with other healthy habits to get your bowels moving regularly.