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 poor diet, lack of exercise, certain medications, and various medical conditions. While mild constipation may resolve on its own, chronic or severe constipation requires treatment to prevent complications. One home remedy some people try is eating pickles, hoping the salty, vinegar-based snack will help get things moving. But does this folk remedy really work? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation has many possible causes, including:
- Low fiber diet
- Lack of exercise
- Travel or changes in routine
- Ignoring urge to have a bowel movement
- Certain medications like opioids
- Diseases like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, colon cancer
- Problems with the colon or rectum
Doctors identify the cause of constipation by taking a medical history, performing a physical exam, and potentially running medical tests. Understanding the root cause is important for proper treatment.
Conventional Constipation Remedies
Before trying home remedies like pickles, doctors typically recommend making dietary and lifestyle changes including:
- Increasing fiber intake – Fiber adds bulk and moisture to stools.
- Drinking more fluids – Water and other liquids help soften stools.
- Exercising regularly – Physical activity stimulates the bowels.
- Establishing bathroom habits – Going at the same time each day trains the bowels.
- Avoiding constipating foods – Cheese, meat, and processed foods can worsen constipation.
If constipation persists after a few weeks, a doctor may recommend over-the-counter laxatives like polyethylene glycol or psyllium. For severe chronic constipation, prescription medications or bowel training techniques may be necessary.
Are Pickles a Home Remedy for Constipation?
Pickles have long been touted as a home remedy to get things moving and relieve constipation. Pickles are cucumbers that have been pickled in a solution of vinegar, salt, spices, and often dill. The vinegar brings a sour taste while the salt brines the cucumber. The high sodium and acidic vinegar content of pickles could potentially draw water into the intestines to soften and stimulate stools. However, no scientific studies have conclusively proven pickles have a laxative effect. Supporters of this home remedy cite several reasons pickles may help:
- The salt in pickles could promote water retention in the stools, making them softer.
- The vinegar in pickles may stimulate muscle contractions to move things along.
- Pickles have no fiber, so unlike high-fiber foods they wouldn’t add bulk.
- The tart taste triggers digestive enzymes to stimulate the gut.
- Pickles have a low glycemic index, so they shouldn’t cause blood sugar spikes.
However, there are also reasons to be skeptical of this folk remedy:
- High sodium could potentially worsen constipation by dehydrating the body.
- Pickles are low in fiber, which is needed to form bulky, softened stools.
- The laxative benefits are likely small and short-lived.
- Pickles are high in sodium, which could increase blood pressure.
Overall the evidence is inconclusive and experts disagree on whether pickles truly help relieve constipation. The effects are likely minor and eating pickles alone won’t cure chronic, severe constipation.
Pickles Nutrition Facts
|Amount in 1 Serving
Pickles are very low in calories, fat, carbs, fiber, and protein. However, they are extremely high in sodium, with one large pickled cucumber containing over 800 mg sodium. The daily recommended sodium limit is 1500-2300 mg, so pickles should be eaten in moderation.
Potential Benefits of Pickles
While pickles may provide little nutritional value, some potential benefits have been noted:
- Antioxidants – Pickled cucumbers contain antioxidants like tannins, flavonoids, and vitamin C for immunity.
- Probiotics – Fermented pickles can contain beneficial probiotics for gut health.
- Anti-cancer – Pickles contain compounds that may help prevent cancer like gastric and colorectal cancers.
- Sunburn remedy – Placing cold pickles against sunburned skin can provide a soothing, cooling effect.
However, these health benefits need more scientific research for validation. Eating pickles may offer minor benefits, but they aren’t a miracle food.
Are Pickles Good for Constipation?
The evidence that pickles relieve constipation is weak. Potential pros and cons include:
Overall, pickles may provide a tiny laxative effect by stimulating gut motility and secretion. However, this benefit is likely outweighed by pickles’ lack of fiber and fluid content. Eating 1-3 small pickles perhaps once a day may offer relief for mild constipation, but pickles alone won’t cure chronic issues. Speak to a doctor if constipation is severe or persists over 2 weeks.
Best Foods and Drinks for Constipation
While pickles offer questionable relief from constipation, other foods and drinks are better options with proven benefits:
- Prunes – Contain sorbitol, a natural laxative, plus fiber.
- Kiwifruit – Packed with fiber that helps form bulky stool.
- Broccoli – Fibrous with compounds that aid digestion.
- Yogurt – Probiotics improve gut function and stool consistency.
- Beans – Fiber and resistant starch feed healthy gut bacteria.
- Coffee – Stimulates contractions to move stool along.
- Water – Softens and adds weight to stool for easier passage.
- Exercise – Physical activity helps increase motility and contractions.
Focusing on a high fiber diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds can significantly improve constipation. Staying well hydrated and active provides added benefits for bowel regularity.
Risks and Complications of Constipation
While occasional constipation is usually not harmful, chronic constipation can negatively impact quality of life and lead to complications if left untreated. Possible risks include:
- Hemorrhoids from straining
- Anal fissures and tears
- Bowel obstruction
- Rectal prolapse
- Fecal impaction
- Incontinence from liquid stool leaking around impaction
Constipation may also be a sign of an underlying medical disorder needing diagnosis. Anyone experiencing severe or persistent constipation should seek medical advice to treat the root cause and avoid complications.
When to See a Doctor
See a doctor promptly if you experience:
- No bowel movements for 3+ days
- Hard, dry stools
- Straining and painful movements
- Persistent bloating and gas
- Blood in stool
- Unexplained weight loss
- Ongoing abdominal pain
A doctor can evaluate your symptoms, medical history and diet to identify an underlying cause. Testing like blood work, colonoscopy or CT scan may be recommended. If simple remedies don’t relieve constipation, medications, bowel training, or surgery may be prescribed. Don’t hesitate to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Pickles have been used as a folk remedy to relieve constipation for years. However, there is little scientific evidence showing pickled cucumbers have significant laxative effects. The high sodium content may actually contribute to dehydration, worsening constipation. While pickles may provide tiny, temporary relief for some, they are not a cure. Focus more on consuming fiber-rich foods, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly. See a doctor for any persistent or severe constipation to get proper treatment and avoid complications. Overall, pickles are not considered an effective remedy and should never replace medical advice.