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Natural Laxatives: 2 Fruits That Relieve Elderly Constipation

Published on , Last Updated on June 14, 2013

Elderly Constipation

Constipation is a frequent problem among older folks but constipation itself is not a normal part of aging. Instead, however, elderly people are more apt to experience conditions, such as medication protocols or decreased mobility, which increase the incidence of constipation.

Constipation can often be corrected through noninvasive measures. Therapies such as abdominal massage, exercise, and drinking more water have all been found to be effective. However, the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Switzerland’s Centre Hospitalier Universitaire warns that older adults often have trouble consistently complying with these measures, and instead turn to laxatives to provide constipation relief. [1]

Fiber, Not Laxatives

The use of laxatives can be a downward spiral that has potential to quickly turn into overuse and dependence. Like hard drugs, it’s better to simply avoid laxatives to begin with and simply enable your body’s natural abilities. The human body is capable of producing bowel movements, and fiber can be the catalyst to start the process, even for the elderly.

The New York Methodist Hospital recently conducted a study that consisted of 92 nursing home residents, all dependent on laxatives, who had their diet supplemented with a natural fiber supplement. By the study’s conclusion, 63 of the 92 patients had stopped using laxatives altogether. [2]

That’s a huge testament to the efficacy of adequate fiber intake. Fiber is available in many different forms and a supplemental powder may or may not be the best choice for you. Many people prefer them because they’re easy to measure and include in an already-existing nutritional supplementation regimen. Many people dislike them because of flavor or texture issues and prefer to consume fiber in food form. The choices of high fiber fruits, vegetables, and legumes are nearly endless, but let’s take a look at two specifically that have performed well in clinical research.

1. Kiwi Fruit

Anecdotal reports have long identified the kiwi fruit as a delicious, natural, and effective means for healthy adults to reduce occurrence of constipation. The results of formal inquiries also support the notion and suggest that the kiwi is even effective for constipated elderly people.

Researchers at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand assembled a study, consisting of 38 elderly adults, to investigate the laxation-promoting effect of kiwi. For three weeks, the study participants supplemented their normal diet with kiwi. Then, for an additional three weeks, they abstained from eating any kiwi. During each time period, participants maintained a daily stool diary that kept record of their defecation schedule and details. At the end of the six-week trial, the data of all participants was analyzed and trends showed that regularly eating kiwi produced more bowel movements, more often. [3]

2. Prunes

Prunes, which are dried plums, have long been known to stimulate bowel action. In 2011, the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine conducted a single-blind study comprised of forty constipated persons who, for eight weeks, were given either prunes or psyllium. It was observed that prunes produced more complete bowel movements with better stool consistency than psyllium. Researchers concluded in saying that dried plums are more effective than psyllium for mild to moderate constipation and deserved their long held title as the helpful go-to for producing a bowel movement. [4]

Establish Good Habits

Lifestyle adjustments are a better strategy than medications and laxatives but they require consistency in order to be effective. Eating a kiwi once a week won’t cut it, neither will an untouched bottle of prune juice. If constipation is a problem in your life, simply make it a goal to eat one kiwi for breakfast, and another every afternoon at 2:00pm. Start each morning with a glass of prune juice and end each day the same. Steady consistency will produce much better results than manic reactions that never last more than a week. And, again, avoid the harsh laxatives. Those things may provide a temporary shortcut but they are not any sort of effective solution.

Many people will find the best response with the fewest negative effects comes from a combination of complementary and alternative therapies. If you need additional support relieving constipation, the Geriatrics Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine recommends that probiotics and massage therapy are easy, effective, and unlikely to cause adverse reactions. [5]

-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM


  1. Bosshard W, Dreher R, Schnegg JF, Büla CJ. The treatment of chronic constipation in elderly people: an update. Drugs Aging. 2004;21(14):911-30.
  2. Khaja M, Thakur CS, Bharathan T, Baccash E, Goldenberg G. ‘Fiber 7’ supplement as an alternative to laxatives in a nursing home. Gerodontology. 2005 Jun;22(2):106-8.
  3. Rush EC, Patel M, Plank LD, Ferguson LR. Kiwifruit promotes laxation in the elderly. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2002;11(2):164-8.
  4. Attaluri A, Donahoe R, Valestin J, Brown K, Rao SS. Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011 Apr;33(7):822-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2011.04594.x. Epub 2011 Feb 15.
  5. Cherniack EP. Use of complementary and alternative medicine to treat constipation in the elderly. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2013 Jan 7. doi: 10.1111/ggi.12023.

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