When it comes to health and digestion, prunes are known as a natural solution to constipation. While their laxative quality is not the only reason to eat prunes, it is one of the most important: About 14% of the global population suffers from chronic constipation. (source) In the U.K., the amount of money spent on laxatives increased by 61.2% from 2006 to 2016. (source)
Scientists do not completely understood why prunes alleviate this form of digestive discomfort. It’s not solely because prunes contain fiber—figs have slightly more fiber per serving than prunes, and prune juice itself is a low-fiber product. Scientists instead point to the combination of fiber, phenolic compounds, and sorbitol within prunes that do the trick.
In the 1990s, A four-week study in England of 120 healthy participants who ate 80 grams of prunes daily saw an increase in bowel movements and stool weight, indicating reduced risk of colon cancer. (source)
A more recent study from 2018 from King’s College London confirmed that eating 80 grams of prunes a day supports normal bowel function, lowers transit time, and increases stool weight. (source)
There is evidence that prunes may help reset the gut after a food-borne illness. In Northeast Italy, prunes were a traditional remedy for both constipation and diarrhea. (source) Fresh and dried prunes have been tested for their ability to suppress the growth of salmonella and E. coli on sausages, ground beef, and broth. (source) Part of the reason may be due to the fruit’s prebiotic components that prevent harmful bacteria from producing.
This theory was tested on rats exposed to the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning. The group fed the diet containing prune powder had lower levels of the pathogen in their guts post-infection compared with the group that didn’t eat prune powder. (source)
While research shows that prunes provide relief from constipation, more studies with human subjects are needed before we can definitively say that prunes are a remedy for gut infections. Yet if anecdotal evidence from Italy and the results of a small animal study hold true, eating prunes may be a way to decrease sensitivity to toxin exposure and strengthen the immune system’s response to it.