Health Benefits of Psyllium Husk
Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes, RDN
Psyllium husk is the outer coating of seeds derived from the plant genus Plantago. A natural, water-soluble fiber, psyllium husk is also referred to as psyllium, psyllium fiber, psyllium gel, or ispaghula.
Psyllium, primarily grown in India, is known for being a natural medicinal plant. Much of the healing properties of psyllium may have to do with the plant being a gel-forming fiber, which means it creates a gel when it’s hydrated. That gel, unlike other viscous fibers that are fermented completely in the colon, is not fermented. Instead, the gel remains intact throughout the gastrointestinal tract.
Largely in part to this gelling quality, psyllium is thought to have multiple health benefits. Psyllium has even been studied for its ability to manage certain conditions. Here’s what the research shows about psyllium husk’s potential benefits and uses.
Lowers LDL Cholesterol
There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Often referred to as the bad cholesterol, LDL cholesterol is what contributes to fatty buildups in the arteries.
High levels of LDL cholesterol, a condition called hypercholesterolemia, can increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, and coronary artery disease.
Research has shown that psyllium husk can help lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
Psyllium may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering serum cholesterol levels. The only other fiber with the same support is b-glucan.
Constipation typically occurs when stool moves slowly through the digestive tract. As water gets taken from the stool, the stool can become hard and dry.
Constipation can be caused by a number of factors, including diet changes, a decrease in physical activity, certain medicines, bowel obstruction, or inadequate water consumption.
In many cases, psyllium husk supplementation can be used to treat constipation. However, if enough fluids are not consumed while taking psyllium husk, constipation can worsen. When psyllium husk is added to a diet, it has a small yet significant effect on microbiota that results in increased stool water. This water makes the stool softer and easier to pass.
Much like constipation, diarrhea can be another mild or chronic issue that affects a person’s daily life. Diarrhea is the frequent or urgent passing of stool that is loose or watery. There are several potential treatments that can help manage diarrhea, including taking psyllium.
While psyllium’s high capacity to hold water can soften hard stool and ease constipation, the supplement can also act as a bulking agent that can firm up loose or liquid stool.
Research has shown that psyllium can help people with chronic diarrhea, lactulose-induced diarrhea, and Crohn’s disease manage their symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that can involve abdominal discomfort and pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Studies show psyllium is safe and effective in improving the overall symptoms of IBS by normalizing stool and reducing gas. In fact, it can be recommended to patients with all of the IBS subtypes: IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant IBS), IBS-C (constipation-predominant IBS), and IBS-M (IBS that has a mix of diarrhea and constipation).
How to Take Psyllium Husk
Psyllium is taken by mouth and comes in a variety of forms, including powder, granules, capsule, liquid, and wafer. Powder and granules should be mixed with 8 ounces of a liquid like water or fruit juice.
You might also take in psyllium when eating certain processed foods.
How often you should consume psyllium husk—and in what quantity—varies based on the reason for use and how severe your symptoms are. For example, if you are constipated, 1 teaspoon of psyllium twice a day might be the dosage that helps you.
Your healthcare provider should be able to advise on the proper dosing when treating a certain condition. Take psyllium as directed, and no more or less than what is recommended. Do not take psyllium for longer than one week, unless told otherwise by your healthcare provider.
Is Psyllium Husk Safe?
Psyllium husk is generally considered safe, but there are certain instances in which you should take precautions.
People allergic to psyllium may experience an allergic reaction when taking psyllium husk. You may also want to talk to a healthcare provider if you are allergic to any other drugs or supplements just to make sure you won’t have any reactions when starting psyllium husk.
People who have or have had certain conditions may want to avoid psyllium husk due to potential complications. Some of these conditions include:
High blood pressure
Talk to your healthcare provider before taking psyllium husk if you are on a low-sugar or low-sodium diet. Also, tell them if you’re pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are currently breastfeeding.
Potential Drug Interactions
Since psyllium is high in fiber, the supplement could decrease the absorption and effects of certain drugs. Within three hours of taking psyllium, try to avoid taking these medications:
Lanoxin (digoxin), used to treat certain heart conditions.
Nitrofurantoin (sold under brand names like Macrodantin, Furadantin, and Macrobid, used to treat urinary tract infections
Make sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking psyllium husk if you are taking any prescription or nonprescription medications and vitamins. They can advise you about any potential interactions.
Where to Find
Plantago ovata, the plant that sources psyllium husk, is primarily grown in India. The U.S. is the main importer of its seeds and husk, which are used extensively as supplements and ingredients in processed foods.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements. When buying supplements of any kind, make sure the product has been third-party tested.
Psyllium is the main ingredient in several fiber supplements, including Metamucil.
Psyllium husk is also added to some processed foods. These foods may include:
Meal replacements, such as a protein bar or shake
Can You Take Too Much Psyllium Husk?
It is possible to take too much psyllium husk. Make sure to follow the product’s directions for dosing and talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions.
Side Effects of Psyllium Husk
Psyllium may cause certain side effects. Talk to a healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:
A Quick Review
Psyllium husk is a water-soluble, bulk-forming fiber derived from the seeds of the Plantago plant. Research has shown that psyllium husk is an effective dietary supplement that may help in managing a number of conditions, including high cholesterol, constipation, diarrhea, and IBS.
You can find psyllium husk in branded fiber supplements, like Metamucil, as well as in certain processed foods.
Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before adding psyllium to your diet, and always follow the suggested dosages to ensure safety and efficacy.
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Read the original article on Health.