The Health Benefits of Psyllium

An easy way to up your soluble fiber intake?

psyllium husk fiber
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Psyllium seed husks (Plantago ovata) contain a type of soluble fiber called mucilage. When we eat soluble fiber, it stays in the digestive tract where it dissolves in water, forming a gel. It helps to absorb the absorption of sugar and fat in the blood, and makes stools soft and easier to pass. 

Why Do People Take Psyllium?

Although psyllium is best known as a laxative, it’s said to help with a wide range of health issues, including:

Soluble fiber is also said to promote a feeling of satiety, or fullness, which is why fiber-rich foods are sometimes recommended as part of a weight loss program. 

Related: Can Psyllium Help With Weight Loss?

The Benefits: Can It Really Help?

Here's a look at several findings from the available research on the potential health benefits of psyllium.

1) Constipation

Increasing your intake of soluble fiber may promote bowel regularity. As fiber makes its way down your digestive tract it forms a gel which makes stool softer and bowel movements easier. 

For a report published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2012, researchers sized up five previously published clinical trials on dietary fiber intake and constipation. Dietary fiber increased stool frequency among people with constipation.

Related: 7 Natural Ways to Relieve Constipation

2) High Cholesterol

Adding soluble fiber to your diet may help to lower your cholesterol. Soluble fiber interferes with the uptake of bile acids in the intestines, leading to their excretion in the stool. As the liver converts cholesterol to replace the bile acids, levels of LDL are lowered.

Increasing your soluble fiber intake by five to 10 grams a day typically results in a five percent reduction in LDL cholesterol.

In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition is 2011, people who were considered overweight or obese took a psyllium supplement, the psyllium plus a healthy eating approach (with dietary fiber), the healthy eating approach with a placebo, or the placebo alone. At 12 weeks, the group following the psyllium-supplemented healthy eating approach had the greatest improvements in metabolic syndrome risk factors. 

3) Diabetes

Some research suggests that soluble fiber such as psyllium may help improve glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, for instance, psyllium taken before meals resulted in a significant improvement in fasting blood glucose and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) in people with type 2 diabetes. 

A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 examined the effects of two months of psyllium and a controlled diet or diet alone in people with type 2 diabetes who were taking sulfonylureas (medication used to manage type 2 diabetes).

While this study found that body mass index, waist circumference, hemoglobin A1c, and fasting glucose levels significantly decreased in both groups, triglycerides (a known risk factor for heart disease) were lower in the group taking psyllium.

Possible Side Effects

Psyllium should be taken in the recommended amount and mixed with an adequate amount of water or it may lead to constipation and possibly even cause choking, intestinal obstruction, or bezoar (a solid mass of fiber in the digestive tract). Starting slowly with a small dose is recommended to give the digestive system time to adjust to the increased fiber. Side effects can include gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Allergic reactions have also been reported.

Psyllium shouldn't be taken by people with bowel obstructions or spasms, difficulty swallowing, or a narrowing or obstruction anywhere in the digestive tract. People with kidney disease and those who are taking certain medications may not be able to take psyllium supplements. 

If you have a new or persistent change in your bowel habits, be sure to consult your doctor. If you have a health condition that requires treatment (such as diabetes or heart disease), talk with your doctor if you're interested in psyllium rather than forgoing or delaying standard care. Also, if you have been prescribed medication, never discontinue taking it without your physician's OK. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

The Takeaway

Although psyllium may be helpful in treating certain types of occasional constipation and may have benefits when taken for other conditions, it is best used in combination with other treatments and preventative strategies that may include diet, lifestyle changes, and medication. 

If you're looking to boost your soluble fiber intake, try incorporating fiber-rich foods such as steel-cut oatmeal, hummus, lentil soup, bean burgers, and other legume dishes, nuts, seeds, citrus fruit, apples, grapes, strawberries, eggplant, and artichokes.

Related: The Soluble-Fiber Benefits of Acacia 

Sources:

Gibb RD, McRorie JW Jr, Russell DA, Hasselblad V, D'Alessio DA. Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec;102(6):1604-14.

Pal S, Khossousi A, Binns C, Dhaliwal S, Ellis V. The effect of a fibre supplement compared to a healthy diet on body composition, lipids, glucose, insulin and other metabolic syndrome risk factors in overweight and obese individuals. Br J Nutr. 2011 Jan;105(1):90-100. 

Sartore G, Reitano R, Barison A, et al. The effects of psyllium on lipoproteins in type II diabetic patients. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Oct;63(10):1269-71.

Yang J, Wang HP, Zhou L, Xu CF. Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Dec 28;18(48):7378-83. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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