Psyllium husk comes from the crushed seeds of the Plantago ovata plant, an herb native to parts of Asia, Mediterranean regions of Europe, and North Africa. In addition to its traditional use for constipation, psyllium has also been used topically by herbalists to treat skin irritations, including poison ivy reactions and insect bites and stings. It has also been used in Chinese and Indian traditional herbal systems to treat bladder problems, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and high blood pressure.
Similar to oats and wheat, psyllium is rich in soluble fiber. Traditionally, psyllium husk is used as a gentle bulk-forming laxative for constipation. Its ingredients include alkaloids, amino acids, oils, protein, tannins, flavonoids, and a variety of sugars and carbohydrates. It is used as a stabilizing and thickening agent in many salad dressings, soups, lotions, and creams. Psyllium seeds are oval-shaped, odorless, practically tasteless, and are coated with mucilage. Most commercial preparations consist of blonde psyllium. Another type of psyllium, called black psyllium, may also be used as a bulk laxative and carries the same risks as blonde psyllium, but is not typically found in commercial psyllium preparations.
Used as a dietary fiber, psyllium makes stools softer, which helps relieve constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids and other intestinal disorders. When psyllium husk comes in contact with water, it swells and forms a gelatinous mass that stimulates the transport of waste through the intestinal tract.
It is considered a good intestinal cleanser in that it speeds waste matter through the digestive system, shortening the amount of time toxic substances stay in the body and thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer and other diseases.
Psyllium encourages the growth of healthful, “friendly” intestinal bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilous and bifidobacteria which are helpful in regulating bowel movements.
Health Benefits of Psyllium
Studies and clinical reports suggest that psyllium may enhance the sensation of fullness and reduce hunger cravings. For these reasons, incorporating psyllium and other sources of fiber into the diet may aid weight loss.
Detoxification of the Colon
The bulking effect of psyllium also works to rid the colon of toxic substances, including heavy metals, as it acts almost as a sponge to soak them off the walls of the intestine. This spongy action has a dual advantage as it can decrease hunger when taken with meals.
Studies have concluded that psyllium relieves constipation as it is believed to speed the passage of stool through the digestive tract by softening the stool and attracting water thereby producing more bulk (which stimulates the transit of waste through the gastrointestinal tract).
Psyllium can be used as a bulk-forming agent to relieve mild to moderate diarrhea. Psyllium soaks up a significant amount of water in the digestive tract, thereby making stool firmer and, under these circumstances, slower to pass. In other words, Psyllium acts to slow down a too rapid transit time. It appears to stabilize bowel movements and is often used in cases of alternating constipation and diarrhea.
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Several studies have found that soluble fiber (including psyllium) helps regulate stool frequency and consistency in people with IBS. Psyllium also has the additional advantages over other sources of fiber of reducing flatulence and bloating.
Psyllium may be recommended by a physician to help soften stool and reduce the pain associated with hemorrhoids.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
In a study of people with ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disorder), psyllium seeds were as effective as the prescription drug mesalamine in decreasing recurrences of the disease. In addition, psyllium has been prescribed as a bulking agent for mild to moderate cases of diarrhea from either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Studies suggest that a high-fiber diet, which may include psyllium, can lower insulin and blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with diabetes. This type of diet may also help prevent diabetes in those at risk for the condition.
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Studies have shown that psyllium husk is effective in lowering total cholesterol and LDL (the Bad cholesterol) levels. Studies also found that a 1% reduction in total and LDL cholesterol can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 2%.
In general, prescription drugs should be taken 1 hour before or 2-4 hours after psyllium, because the absorption and effectiveness of many drugs may be reduced.
Psyllium should always be taken with (at least) a full 8 oz glass of water. It is also important to drink at least 6 to 8 full glasses of water throughout the day or constipation may develop. Taking psyllium supplements without adequate liquids may cause it to swell, and, in extreme causes, cause choking. Do not take this product 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.
*** Do not give psyllium to a child. ***
Add 1/2 to 2 tsp of psyllium seed to 1 cup (8 oz) of warm water. Mix well, and then drink immediately before it becomes too thick to swallow comfortably. (Psyllium thickens rapidly when water is added to it.) If using a commercial product that contains psyllium, follow package directions.
For those not accustomed to taking psyllium, it is best to begin with a low dose (such as 1/2 tsp in an 8 oz glass of water once a day), then increase to 2 tsp in two 8 oz glasses of water per day, as needed.
Higher doses of psyllium may be recommended by a health care provider to treat certain conditions. In the case of irritable bowel syndrome, for example, an initial dose of 1/2 to 1 tsp of psyllium per day is gradually increased to 4 doses per day.
Psyllium can be taken first thing in the morning or before bedtime. As a weight-loss aid, take at least 30 minutes before meals.
Continue reading to learn how Earth Clinic readers have used psyllium for their ailments and if they experienced any side effects!