Psyllium is a soluble fiber used primarily as a gentle bulk forming laxative in products such as Metamucil. It comes from a shrub like herb called Plantago ovata that grows worldwide but is most common in India. Each plant can produce up to 15,000 tiny, gel coated seeds, from which psyllium husk is derived.
The soluble fiber found in psyllium husks can help lower cholesterol. Psyllium can help relieve both constipation and diarrhea, and is used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, and other intestinal problems. Psyllium has also been used to help regulate blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. When psyllium husk comes in contact with water, it swells and forms a gelatin like mass that helps transport waste through the intestinal tract. Several large population based studies also suggest that increased fiber intake may reduce risk of colon cancer, but other studies have been conflicting.
What are the Health Benefits of Psyllium?
Studies have found that Psyllium is beneficial in the treatment of a variety of health conditions. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even approved advertisers and food packagers from stating that Psyllium is an effective ingredient to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of Heart disease. Many people have also found Psyllium to be effective when treating:
After some promising early studies, newer results examining whether a high fiber diet protects against colon cancer have been mixed. Most large, better designed studies have found only a slight association between fiber intake and colorectal cancer risk. In addition, fiber does not appear to protect against the recurrence of colorectal cancer.
Many well designed studies have shown that psyllium relieves constipation. When combined with water, it swells and produces more bulk, which stimulates the intestines to contract and helps speed the passage of stool through the digestive tract. Psyllium is widely used as a laxative in Asia, Europe, and North America.
Studies suggest that a high fiber diet may help lower insulin and blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. It may also reduce the chance of developing diabetes in those who are at risk.
Psyllium can also be used to help relieve mild-to-moderate diarrhea. It soaks up a significant amount of water in the digestive tract, making stool firmer and slower to pass.
Adding high fiber Foods (such as psyllium enriched cereals) to your diet may help lower Heart disease risk. In fact, studies show that a diet high in water soluble fiber is associated with lower triglyceride levels, and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Your doctor may recommend psyllium to help soften stool and reduce the pain associated with hemorrhoids.
High Blood Pressure
Although studies are not entirely conclusive, adding fiber (12 g of soluble fiber per day) to your diet, particularly psyllium, may help lower blood pressure. In one study, 6 months of supplementation with psyllium fiber significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in overweight people with hypertension.
Soluble fibers — such as those in psyllium husk, guar gum, flax seed, and oat bran — can help lower cholesterol when added to a low fat, low cholesterol diet. Studies have shown psyllium can lower total as well as LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, which may help reduce the risk of Heart disease. In combination with cholesterol lowering drugs, such as statins, psyllium provides an added benefit to reducing cholesterol levels.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Although studies have found conflicting results, some physicians recommend psyllium for mild-to-moderate cases of diarrhea from either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease (another type of inflammatory bowel disorder). In one study of people with ulcerative colitis, psyllium was as effective as the prescription drug mesalamine (Pentasa, Rowasa, Asacol) in maintaining remission. However, for some people with IBD, too much psyllium can make symptoms worse. Work closely with your doctor to decide how much fiber is right for you.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Several studies have found that soluble fiber (including psyllium) helps relieve some symptoms of IBS, such as diarrhea and constipation. Other studies, however, have found mixed results.
Studies and clinical reports suggest that psyllium may make you feel fuller and reduce hunger cravings.
Fat excretion in stool
Early research shows that dietary psyllium and chitosan supplementation may help to increase the excretion of fat in the stool.
What are the Side Effects of Psyllium?
It is recommended to talk to your doctor before taking psyllium if you are currently taking medications for diabetes or cholesterol. Do not take psyllium if you have swallowing problems, intestinal obstructions, or have recently undergone bowel surgery.
Psyllium doesn’t have any known side effects if consumed moderately with plenty of water. However, some people may be allergic to psyllium, so if you notice any rash, hives, itchiness or swollen skin, stop the use of Psyllium husk and consult your physician.
Because supplements may have side effects or interact with medications, you should take them only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
Psyllium supplements may reduce or delay the absorption of certain medications (See Possible Interactions). As a rule, you should not take psyllium supplements at the same time as other medications. Take psyllium at least 1 hour before or 2 – 4 hours after taking other medications.
You should always take psyllium with a full 8 oz. glass of water, and you should drink at least 6 – 8 full glasses of water throughout the day to avoid constipation. Taking psyllium supplements without adequate liquids may cause it to swell, and, in extreme cases, cause choking.
Do not take this product if you have bowel obstructions or spasms, or if you have difficulty swallowing. People with esophageal stricture (narrowing of the esophagus) or any other narrowing or obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract should not take psyllium.
A potential side effect from any fiber product is gas and bloating.
People with kidney disease should talk to their doctor before taking psyllium.