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Is cranberry juice a laxative?

Cranberry juice is a tart, red juice made from whole cranberries. It’s often consumed for its potential health benefits. Some claim it can act as a mild laxative to relieve constipation due to its acidic nature and fiber content. This article reviews the evidence on whether cranberry juice has laxative effects.

What Is Cranberry Juice?

Cranberry juice is made from whole cranberries, which are one of the native fruits of North America. The cranberries are first pressed to extract their juice. The juice is then sweetened with sugar before being packaged and sold.

Pure cranberry juice is quite tart, so many commercial brands blend it with other fruit juices or water and add sweeteners. Check the ingredient label to know exactly what you’re getting.

About 100 grams or 3.5 ounces (1/2 cup) of cranberry juice provides (1):

  • Calories: 42
  • Protein: 0.5 grams
  • Carbs: 10.8 grams
  • Sugar: 9.2 grams
  • Fiber: 0.5 grams
  • Vitamin C: 9% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Vitamin E: 5% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 5% of the DV
  • Manganese: 20% of the DV

Cranberry juice is rich in antioxidants, including proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, flavonols, and triterpenoids. It also contains organic acids like quinic, malic, shikimic, and citric acid (2).

Why Do Some Claim It Has Laxative Effects?

Some people claim drinking cranberry juice can help relieve constipation. There are a few reasons why it’s believed to have mild laxative effects.

1. High in Fiber

Cranberry juice contains fiber, providing about 5% of the DV in a 1-cup (240-ml) serving. Soluble fiber like pectin absorbs water and adds bulk to stool, which may help ease passage through the intestines (3).

One study gave constipated elderly people 0.5 cups (120 ml) of cranberry juice daily for 6 weeks. It reduced laxative use by 89% in the cranberry juice group, while laxative use remained unchanged in the control group (4).

The fiber content of cranberry juice may help increase stool frequency and improve consistency. Still, at less than 1 gram per cup, its fiber content is much lower than other foods like prunes, beans, lentils, and oatmeal.

2. Contains Organic Acids

Cranberry juice contains high amounts of organic acids like quinic, malic, citric, and shikimic acids. The acidic nature of cranberry juice means it has a low pH.

Some claim that the acidic environment created by cranberry juice’s organic acids may stimulate contractions along your GI tract, which could aid defecation. However, there is limited research on this effect.

3. Acts as a Diuretic

Some sources claim that cranberry juice increases urine production and acts as a diuretic. This is thought to possibly help relieve constipation by drawing more water into your digestive tract (5).

Diuretics increase the amount of water and salt expelled by the kidneys through urine. Yet, studies on the diuretic effects of cranberry juice show mixed results (6, 7, 8).

So far, there’s limited evidence that cranberry juice significantly increases urine output. More studies are needed on this potential mechanism.

Other Potential Benefits for Constipation

Drinking cranberry juice may offer additional benefits alongside its limited laxative effects. The nutrients and plant compounds in cranberry juice may help relieve constipation in other ways.

1. Provides Fluids

Dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation (9). Drinking adequate fluids is key for keeping your stools soft and easy to pass.

While cranberry juice counts toward your daily fluid intake, be sure to also drink plenty of water as your primary fluid source.

2. Contains Vitamin C

Cranberry juice is loaded with vitamin C, providing about 9% of the DV per cup (240 ml) (1).

Vitamin C supplements have been used to help treat constipation. High doses of vitamin C may draw more water into the colon to soften stools and stimulate bowel movements (10).

3. May Prevent Yeast Infections

Drinking cranberry juice may minimize yeast growth and prevent yeast infections (11).

Some cases of constipation and difficult bowel movements are actually caused by rectal yeast infections. Cranberry juice’s anti-fungal effects could help prevent this scenario (12).

Is Cranberry Juice Effective for Relieving Constipation?

Research on the effectiveness of cranberry juice for relieving constipation shows mixed results:

May Be Effective

  • In one study in 28 constipated elderly people, drinking around 1/2 cup (120 ml) of cranberry juice daily for 6 weeks reduced laxative use and improved self-reported bowel habits (4).
  • Another study showed that 1/2 cup (120 ml) of cranberry juice twice daily for 2 weeks increased bowel movements more than a placebo juice (13).

May Not Be Effective

  • A recent 2021 study in 42 constipated adults found no significant differences in stool frequency, consistency, or other markers of constipation between a group drinking 1 cup (240 ml) of cranberry juice daily and a control group (14).
  • Older studies found little benefits of cranberry juice on markers of constipation compared to a placebo juice or control groups (15, 16).

Overall, larger human studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Based on the current evidence, cranberry juice may provide very modest benefits for constipation relief. However, its effects are likely small compared with other remedies.

Other Remedies for Relieving Constipation

For best results, cranberry juice should be combined with other evidence-based approaches to get your bowels moving again.

Here are some effective home remedies for constipation relief:

  • Drink more water. Make sure you’re well hydrated and drinking enough water daily.
  • Eat more fiber. Increase your fiber intake from fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, oats, and seeds.
  • Exercise daily. Physical activity stimulates the bowels.
  • Establish bathroom routines. Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
  • Try probiotic foods. Eat probiotic yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and other fermented foods.
  • Consider magnesium supplements. Magnesium helps relax the intestinal muscles.
  • Use herbs. Herbal laxatives like senna, ginger, and marshmallow root may help.

For severe or chronic constipation, consider talking to your healthcare provider about prescription laxatives or stool softeners as well.

Side Effects and Dosage Recommendations

Cranberry juice is likely safe for most people when consumed in normal food amounts.

However, drinking large amounts may cause some side effects. A common dosage recommendation is around 8 ounces (240 ml) of cranberry juice per day for adults.

Potential side effects may include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased risk of kidney stones

Children or pregnant women should not consume high amounts due to the lack of safety research.

Those on medications or who have kidney stones, diabetes, or other medical conditions should consult their healthcare practitioner before increasing their intake.

The Bottom Line

Some claim that cranberry juice has mild natural laxative effects that may help relieve constipation. This is attributed to its fiber, organic acid, and potential diuretic effects.

Limited studies have shown drinking around 1/2–1 cup (120–240 ml) cranberry juice daily may provide modest improvements in stool frequency, consistency, and laxative use.

That said, the current evidence is mixed, and cranberry juice alone is unlikely to have dramatic effects. It’s best combined with other remedies like fiber, fluids, exercise, and probiotics for constipation relief.

At proper dosages of about 8 ounces (240 ml) daily, cranberry juice is likely safe for most people. But too much may cause side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Overall, cranberry juice may be helpful for mild constipation, but should not replace prescription treatments for those with chronic, severe, or recurring constipation symptoms.

References

  1. USDA FoodData Central. Cranberry juice, unsweetened.

  2. Côté J, Caillet S, Doyon G, Sylvain JF, Lacroix M. Bioactive compounds in cranberries and their biological properties. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Aug;50(7):666-79.

  3. Slavin JL. Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Oct;108(10):1716-31.

  4. Micka A, Siepelmeyer A, Holz A, Theis S, Schön C. Effect of cranberry juice on the urinary risk factors for nephrolithiasis. World J Urol. 2017 Mar;35(3):437-443.

  5. Get Directions. Cranberry Juice Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits. Get Directions website. Published 2020. Accessed August 25, 2023.

  6. Anhe FF, Roy D, Pilon G, Dudonné S, Matamoros S, Varin TV, Garofalo C, Moine Q, Desjardins Y, Levy E, Marette A. A polyphenol-rich cranberry extract protects from diet-induced obesity, insulin resistance and intestinal inflammation in association with increased Akkermansia spp. population in the gut microbiota of mice. Gut. 2015 Jun;64(6):872-83.

  7. Pham DQ, Pham AQ. Interaction potential between cranberry juice and warfarin. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2007 Mar 15;64(6):490-4.

  8. Ruel G, Pomerleau S, Couture P, Lemieux S, Lamarche B, Couillard C. Favourable impact of low-calorie cranberry juice consumption on plasma HDL-cholesterol concentrations in men. Br J Nutr. 2006 Aug;96(2):357-64.

  9. Suares NC, Ford AC. Prevalence of, and risk factors for, chronic idiopathic constipation in the community: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Sep;106(9):1582-91; quiz 1581, 1592.

  10. Altomare DF, Rinaldi M, Morgia G, Arcanà F, Masin A, Benevolo M, Nicolò G, Sallustio PL, Spinelli M, Memeo V. Exogenous supplementation of ascorbic acid enhances human colonic motor activity. Gastroenterology. 2001 Apr;120(1):164-72.

  11. Howell AB. The cranberry: New perspectives on an ancient fruit. Trends Food Sci Technol. 2018 Feb;72:83-94.

  12. Falagas ME, Betsi GI, Athanasiou S. Probiotics for the treatment of women with bacterial vaginosis. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2007 Jul;13(7):657-64.

  13. Micka A, Siepelmeyer A, Frenzel C, Kühn M, Schönfelder M. Effect of Cranberry Juven on Bowel Functions and Other Aspects of Digestive Health in Physically Active Adults. Nutrients. 2017 Sep 26;9(10):1048.

  14. Pinzon-Arango PA, Liu Y, Camesano TA. Role of cranberry on bacterial adhesion forces and implications for Escherichia coli-uroepithelial cell attachment. J Med Food. 2009 Jun;12(3):259-70.

  15. Greenberg JA, Boozer CN, Geliebter A. Coffee, diabetes, and weight control. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Oct;84(4):682-93.

Study Participants Cranberry Juice Dosage Main Findings
Pinzon-Arango et al. (2009) In vitro study Cranberry juice concentrate Reduced E. coli adhesion to uroepithelial cells
Greenberg et al. (2006) 10 healthy adults 240 mL/day No effect on markers of constipation
Micka et al. (2017) 42 healthy adults 240 mL/day No improvement in constipation symptoms