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, various medications, dehydration and certain medical conditions. While it may seem minor, chronic constipation can negatively impact your quality of life. Thankfully, making dietary changes is often effective for relieving constipation. In particular, certain fruits contain nutrients, fiber and fluids that can help get your bowels moving regularly. This article explores the best fruits to eat when you’re constipated.
What causes constipation?
Constipation occurs when stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract, typically in the large intestine (colon). Common causes include:
- Inadequate fiber intake
- Lack of exercise/physical inactivity
- Dehydration or inadequate fluid intake
- Various medications, including opioids, antacids, iron and calcium supplements
- Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
- Hormonal imbalances
- Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, hypothyroidism and colon cancer
Diet and lifestyle factors typically play a significant role. In particular, low fiber intake slows digestion, as fiber adds bulk to stool and helps it move smoothly through your system. Dehydration can make stools hard and challenging to pass as well. Additionally, consistently ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement trains your body to delay elimination.
Signs and symptoms of constipation
Signs and symptoms of constipation may include:
- Passing fewer than three stools per week
- Lumpy or hard stools
- Straining to have bowel movements
- Feeling as though you can’t completely empty your bowels
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Feeling sluggish
- Having gas or intestinal cramping
- Needing help to have a bowel movement, such as using your hands to press on your abdomen
- Rectal bleeding from hard stools
Chronic constipation may also cause you to unintentionally leak stool or accidentally pass stool when passing gas.
Dangers of chronic constipation
Although occasional constipation is usually not serious, chronic constipation can negatively impact your quality of life and lead to complications, including:
- Hemorrhoids: Straining to pass hard stools puts pressure on the veins around your anus, which can cause them to swell into hemorrhoids.
- Anal fissures: Hard stools and straining can cause tears in the thin, delicate tissue lining your anus.
- Fecal impaction: Hardened stool can accumulate in your colon and rectum, becoming so solid that it obstruct your bowels.
- Bowel obstruction: Constipation-related fecal impactions may partially or completely obstruct your intestines.
- Increased toxicity: Slower transit time allows your intestine to reabsorb more water from stool, resulting in more concentrated toxins.
Chronic constipation has also been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Furthermore, it can reduce your quality of life, bringing frustration, discomfort and emotional distress.
Best fruits for constipation relief
Making specific dietary changes is key for relieving constipation. Certain fruits are particularly beneficial, as they contain fiber, fluids and nutrients that regulate digestion. Here are some of the top fruits to eat when constipated.
Prunes, or dried plums, are among the most widely recommended natural remedies for constipation. They contain high amounts of fiber, with nearly 2 grams per prune. Prunes also contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol with natural laxative effects that helps soften stool and increases bowel movements.
In fact, multiple studies demonstrate prunes’ effectiveness at relieving constipation. They appear as effective as fiber supplements and have been shown to increase stool frequency, improve consistency and decrease laxative use.
Apples are high in fiber, providing 4 grams in a medium-sized apple (182 grams). About 2.5 grams come from pectin, a type of soluble fiber that acts as a bulking agent to promote regularity.
Apples also contain sorbitol and fructose, natural sugars with laxative effects that can help relieve constipation when consumed in moderation.
Several studies have found apples to increase stool volume and weight, decrease gut transit time and improve symptoms of chronic constipation.
Like apples, pears contain significant amounts of fiber and sorbitol, which aid digestion. Fiber accounts for approximately 3.5 grams in an average pear, while a 100-gram serving of pears provides about 4 grams of sorbitol.
The fiber and sorbitol in pears work together to add bulk and moisture to stool, stimulating bowel movements.
A 2019 study found that eating 300 grams of pears per day for 12 weeks decreased symptoms of functional constipation, compared to a control group that consumed placebo fruit bars.
Oranges are packed with fluid and fiber, which are both beneficial for relieving constipation. One orange provides 12% of the RDI for fiber and over 70% of the RDI for vitamin C.
They are especially high in soluble fiber, the type that absorbs water to form a gel-like consistency. This helps soften stool and get it moving through your digestive system.
Drinking orange juice is another simple way to benefit from the constipation-fighting effects of oranges. Try combining orange juice with prunes and kiwifruit for an on-the-go smoothie that stimulates regularity.
Dried and fresh figs are gentle, natural laxatives that are high in fiber. Dried figs provide over 7 grams of fiber both per 100-gram serving and per fruit.
Figs also contain an enzyme called ficin, which stimulates muscle contraction in your digestive tract to support regularity.
Furthermore, animal studies indicate that fig extract increases stool weight and hastens intestinal transit time to help relieve constipation.
Kiwifruit is particularly rich in fiber and actinidin, a protease enzyme that helps digest protein in your gut.
Actinidin has been shown to stimulate motility in your digestive system to promote regularity.
A 2007 study found that eating two kiwifruits per day for four weeks increased stool frequency and improved constipation symptoms, compared to a control group that did not eat kiwifruit.
Cherries contain sorbitol, a laxative sugar alcohol found in prune juice. Like prunes, they are able to augment your body’s production of nitric oxide, which relaxes muscles in your digestive tract to support healthy bowel movements.
Fresh cherries boast over 3 grams of fiber per cup (154 grams) as well.
A small study in older adults with constipation found that drinking 200 ml of cherry juice twice daily for 4 weeks increased defecation frequency and improved consistency of bowel movements, compared to a placebo beverage.
Other tips for relieving constipation
Here are some other ways to help relieve constipation quickly and prevent it from reoccurring:
- Stay hydrated. Make it a priority to drink water and other fluids like fruit juice and herbal teas.
- Exercise daily. Physical activity stimulates your digestive system and can counter the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
- Up your fiber intake. Eat plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Consider a fiber supplement. If diet changes aren’t enough, over-the-counter psyllium husk can help.
- Try a probiotic. Probiotic supplements support healthy gut bacteria, which aid digestion.
- Establish a bathroom routine. Don’t ignore the urge to use the bathroom. Schedule time each day to poop if needed.
- Relieve stress. Find healthy stress relievers, as anxiety and mental distress can disrupt digestion.
Additionally, speak to your healthcare provider if at-home treatments aren’t working. They can recommend medication, suggest diagnostic tests to identify underlying causes or refer you to a gastroenterologist.
The bottom line
Constipation is a common problem that can often be relieved with dietary modifications, especially increasing your intake of high fiber fruits.
Prunes, apples, pears, oranges, figs, kiwifruit and cherries are among the best fruits to eat when constipated. Try combining a few of these fruits daily to stimulate regular bowel movements.
However, if constipation persists for more than a few weeks, consult your doctor to identify potential underlying causes.