Psyllium husk comes from a shrub-like herb called Plantago ovata, which 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. It also sometimes goes by the name ispaghula.
People use psyllium as a dietary supplement. It is available in the form of husk, granules, capsules, or powder. Manufacturers may also fortify breakfast cereals and baked goods with psyllium. Psyllium is best known as a natural laxative. It is the main active ingredient in Metamucil.
Psyllium husk powder is an edible soluble fiber and prebiotic. It’s often referred to as a bulking fiber because once it is ingested, it expands, forming a gel-like mass by drawing water in from the colon. It then promotes easy, healthy elimination by sweeping waste out of the colon more quickly and efficiently.
Because of its excellent water solubility, psyllium can absorb water and become a thick, viscous compound that resists digestion in the small intestine. Its resistance to digestion allows it to help regulate high cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels. It can also aid weight management and relieve mild diarrhea as well as constipation. Unlike other sources of fiber, the body typically tolerates psyllium well.
Psyllium can help current diabetics as well as people trying to prevent diabetes. Eating dietary fibers like psyllium husk can assist in maintaining healthy glycemic balance. People with diabetes have to maintain a balance of insulin and blood sugar (glucose). Specifically, researchers have found taking psyllium before meals can significantly improve your fasting blood glucose.
One study evaluated psyllium seed husk fiber’s effect on lipid and glucose levels as an adjunct to dietary and drug therapy in patients with type II diabetes. The study found that taking psyllium daily can help patients with type II diabetes control their blood sugar without negative side effects.
Numerous studies have shown that fiber like psyllium, taken as part of a healthy diet, can help lower a person’s risk of heart disease. Psyllium can affect your heart by lowering blood pressure, improving lipid levels, and strengthening heart muscle.
Psyllium has been shown to improve high blood pressure. Hypertension affects 30 percent of the population and is a preventable condition. In a randomized clinical trial, six months of supplementation with psyllium fiber significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in overweight people with hypertension.
Obesity is the most prevalent health issue affecting all age groups, and it leads to many serious health problems, including diabetes and chronic heart disease. Psyllium husk is on the list of medicinal plants that have been shown to significantly decrease body weight. Psyllium husk can be very helpful in maintaining and achieving a healthy weight since it encourages a feeling of satiety when it is consumed.
Constipation is a very common health issue. Chronic constipation is especially common in adults older than 60 years, and symptoms occur in up to 50 percent of nursing home residents. Additional fiber intake in the form of psyllium is recommended by scientific studies to improve symptoms and provide natural constipation relief. Psyllium is recommended over magnesium-based laxatives, which should be avoided due to potential toxicity.
When combined with water or another liquid, psyllium husk swells and produces more bulk, which stimulates the intestines to contract and helps speed the passage of stool through the digestive tract. Psyllium has also been found to be superior to docusate sodium for softening stools by increasing stool water content and has greater overall laxative efficacy.
Since psyllium seed husk helps make elimination easier, it also helps naturally treat hemorrhoids, which are often the result of constipation. Psyllium can also be used to help relieve mild-to-moderate diarrhea. It’s beneficial to diarrhea sufferers because it soaks up a significant amount of water in the digestive tract, which helps make the stool firmer and slower to pass through the system.
Psyllium helps with maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel study, all subjects maintained their usual diets, which provided less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day and approximately 20 percent of energy from protein, 40 percent from carbohydrates and 40 percent from fat. The study found that eight weeks of treatment with psyllium reduced serum total cholesterol levels by 14.8 percent, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by 20.2 percent and the ratio of LDL cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol by 14.8 percent relative to baseline values. The reductions in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol became progressively larger with time, and this trend appeared to continue at the eighth week.
- For adults and children over 12 years of age, take 1 teaspoon mixed into a liquid of your choice 1-3 times daily.
- For children 6-12, the recommended dosage of psyllium husk powder is a half teaspoon 1-3 times daily.
- Once the recommended serving of whole psyllium husks or psyllium husk powder is mixed well into at least eight ounces of liquid, it will thicken up into a gel-like consistency (this is normal) and it should be consumed immediately. If the mixture is too thick, simply add more liquid. Per serving, whole psyllium husks (one tablespoon) and psyllium husk powder (one teaspoon) are usually both around 15-30 calories with 3.5 to six grams of dietary fiber.
You can also purchase psyllium in capsule form. The amount of psyllium husk per capsule varies by company but typically contain around 500-625 milligrams per capsule. Follow the directions on the packaging for best results.
It is best to start by taking one serving of psyllium husk each day and gradually increasing to three servings per day if needed so the body can adapt. If minor gas or bloating occurs, reduce the amount you consume daily until your system adjusts.
Psyllium can interact with several medications. It may affect the absorption of:
- Tegretol (carbamazepine)
- Lanoxin (digoxin) (Take one hour before or four hours after psyllium.)
- Glumetza (metformin) (Take psyllium at least 30 to 60 minutes after taking metformin.)
- Zyprexa (olanzapine)
Tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medications you take, both prescription and over-the-counter, before starting a new supplement.
How to Buy
You can find psyllium in one or more forms at any health store and many online retailers. You can purchase whole psyllium husks, ground psyllium husk powder or psyllium husk capsules.
Some people find the whole husks to be more effective, especially when it comes to constipation, while others like the finer consistency of the powder. The powder is made by grinding the husks down so the gel ultimately produced is finer and has less of a grainy texture.
Similar to flaxseed supplements, it’s pretty much a matter of personal preference. Either way, when purchasing any psyllium supplement you should always make sure that the product is 100 percent pure, which means it is free of gluten, sugar, artificial flavors, artificial colors and fillers.
How to Store
All psyllium seed husk products should be stored at room temperature away from heat and light. Make sure to keep the supplement tightly closed to protect it from humidity.
How to Cook
The best way to use psyllium husk powder is to bake with it. It functions as a thickener, binding agent, and texture enhancer, all in one. Recipes usually call for small amounts of powder (most commonly 2-6 tablespoons, depending on the recipe). It is the crucial ingredient in gluten free bread baking. It acts as a binder, and it gives gluten free bread dough the elasticity, flexibility and extensibility it needs so you can actually knead and shape it without any problems.
Psyllium is a great natural alternative to gluten, questionable xanthan gum, and other unhealthy and expensive binding agents used in baking.
When using psyllium as a binding agent in baking, you need to include additional liquid in your recipe to compensate for the water-absorbing ability of psyllium. It’s a good idea to let your dough or batter sit for a few minutes to give the psyllium a chance to gelatinize, and then you can add the appropriate amount of liquid for your desired consistency.