Can Taking Psyllium Supplements Lower Your Cholesterol?

Brian Balster

Psyllium is derived from psyllium seed husks from various plants that belong to the genus Plantago. This seed is commonly manufactured into a supplement that is available in many forms, such as powders, cereals, pills or capsules. You've probably seen psyllium supplements lining the shelves of your local pharmacy, grocery store or Health foods store - where they are widely available.  The soluble fiber component of psyllium has been widely studied in treating constipation.

Because of this, psyllium supplements are often found with other over-the-counter drugs that treat gastrointestinal ailments. Many studies also suggest that psyllium can help lower your cholesterol levels.

What Do the Studies Say?

Most studies involved people that had mild to moderately high cholesterol levels without taking cholesterol-lowering medications. People participating in these studies took doses of psyllium between 2 grams and 45 grams per day - either in powder, pill, or in cereal form. However, most studies used doses between 3 grams and 10.5 grams of psyllium daily.  In some cases where larger doses were taken, the doses were divided and taken throughout the day, instead of being consumed at one time. Some studies did not designate a particular diet for the study participants to follow, whereas people in other studies followed a low fat diet in addition to taking psyllium. Psyllium was taken for a time period between one week and six months.

Although there were a few studies that did not show an appreciable difference in lipid levels in people  taking psyllium daily, most studies demonstrated that:

  • Total cholesterol levels were modestly lowered by anywhere between 4 percent and 10 percent.
  • LDL cholesterol levels were also slightly lowered by anywhere between 4 percent and 13 percent.

    Most studies did not see any significant changes in HDL and triglyceride levels in individuals taking psyllium. The cholesterol-lowering effects of psyllium also appear to be dose-dependent - that is, the higher the dose given, the lower total and LDL cholesterol levels will go.

    It is thought that psyllium’s cholesterol-lowering effects can be attributed to soluble fiber, a complex carbohydrate that develops a gel-like consistency when it enters the digestive tract. It is thought that this soluble fiber lowers cholesterol by reducing its absorption from the small intestine and into the bloodstream.

    Should You Take Psyllium to Lower Your Cholesterol?

    There are many studies that suggest that psyllium can slightly lower your total cholesterol and LDL levels - making this supplement a promising addition to your cholesterol management plan. However, there do not appear to be any studies examining the long-term effects of psyllium on cholesterol levels beyond six months. Although psyllium appears to be relatively safe, some people taking psyllium in these studies experienced mild gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and flatulence.

    If you are interested in taking psyllium supplements to help lower your cholesterol, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider first. Psyllium may interact with certain medications and vitamins that you are taking, preventing the drugs from being absorbed into the body. Therefore, it is recommended that other medications be taken either two hours before or two hours after taking psyllium. Additionally, if you have certain medical conditions involving your gastrointestinal tract, psyllium may potentially worsen them.

    Psyllium should be taken with at least 8 ounces of fluid and adequate fluid intake should be maintained while taking psyllium, since psyllium can swell and block your throat or intestinal tract without consuming the appropriate amount of fluids.

    Some food manufacturers add psyllium to certain cereals, breakfast bars, and crackers  - so if you do not like taking supplemental pills or powder, this option might be more appealing. You should check the package labeling for psyllium and nutritional content of the food product.


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