What is a psyllium husk, why do people take it as a fiber supplement, and what can it do for your health? We’ll answer all these questions and more in the following article, so you can decide whether psyllium husk powder or supplements are right for you.
What Is Psyllium Husk and What Is It Used For?
Psyllium is derived from the plantago ovata plant, an herb largely found in India. It’s a water-soluble fiber made from the husk of the psyllium seed, and is commonly used as a dietary supplement. Psyllium is the active main ingredient in Metamucil, which is a product designed to relieve constipation.
Psyllium is used as a gentle, bulk-forming laxative, as it’s able to move through your digestive system without being fully broken down or absorbed. Instead, it absorbs water itself, becomes viscous, and that makes it beneficial for conditions like diarrhea and constipation, as well as useful for blood sugar control, blood pressure levels, weight loss, and cholesterol balance. To learn more about these specific psyllium health benefits, read on!
The Benefits of Psyllium Husk Supplements
Psyllium husk is a common, gentle laxative that can be easily included in your dietary routine. Here are some of the reasons you may want to up your psyllium fiber intake.
1. Psyllium Can Help Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Supplementing with fiber has been shown to help control your glycemic response after eating a meal, reducing your insulin and blood sugar levels. Water-soluble fibers like psyllium husk are particularly effective at this sort of regulation. Psyllium has been shown to work even better than fibers like bran because of its gel-forming ability, which slows down the digestion of food.
One study treating 56 men with diabetes showed that 5.1 grams of psyllium twice a day for 8 weeks reduced blood sugar levels by 11%. Another study showed that people with type 2 diabetes taking 5 grams 3 times per day over 6 weeks experienced a 29% drop in blood sugar levels right away (within the first 2 weeks). In these instances it’s better to take psyllium with food instead of on its own, as it’s the supplement’s ability to slow down food digestion that has the greatest affect on blood sugar levels.
2. Psyllium Has Prebiotic Uses
Prebiotics (not probiotics) are compounds that you can’t digest, but your healthy gut bacteria can. Psyllium has recently been recognized as having prebiotic effects, including in cases of inflammatory bowel disease. A small amount of the psyllium fibers can be fermented by your intestinal bacteria, which can then lead to the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that are linked to certain health benefits. Because this fermentation process is slow, it doesn’t create the digestive discomfort or gas that can come from other fibers, which is good for those who have certain gastrointestinal conditions, like ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.
3. Psyllium Alleviates Constipation
Because psyllium husk operates as a bulk-forming laxative, it increases stool size by absorbing water. This helps alleviate constipation, making waste move more comfortably through your digestive tract. One study found psyllium more effective at this than bran, and another showed that taking psyllium (5.1 grams) twice a day for a period of 2 weeks increased the amount of water in stools and the total number of bowel movements in 170 chronic constipation participants.
4. Psyllium May Help with Weight Loss and Satiety
There are studies indicating that you might use psyllium husk to lose weight and control appetite. In one study 12 healthy participants consuming 10.8 grams of psyllium before a meal had delayed stomach emptying, which prolonged their satiety and feelings of fullness for 6 hours afterwards. Yet another study with 17 participants found that 2 psyllium doses of 20 grams each, consumed 3 hours before and then immediately proceeding a meal, reduced the participants’ total fat intake during the day.
Regarding weight loss, the effects of psyllium have been shown to contribute to 9-10 pound weight losses in participants over 16 weeks. Pairing a psyllium husk supplement with a fiber-rich diet resulted in a significant reduction of body mass index (BMI), percentage of body fat, and overall weight. Many of these studies point out that these results also indicate a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
5. Psyllium Can Lower Cholesterol Levels
Psyllium binds to fat and bile acids, which helps them to be excreted from your body. To replace these bile acids, your liver uses cholesterol to produce more, and as a result of this process, your blood cholesterol levels decrease. On top of that, one study found that this increase in bile acid synthesis lowered LDL cholesterol in individuals who were taking 15 grams of psyllium per day for less than 2 months. Another study found a 6% reduction of LDL cholesterol for those taking 6 grams of psyllium per day for a period of 6 weeks.
Not only does high cholesterol go down with psyllium supplementation, but your good HDL cholesterol levels can also improve. An 8-week study saw a decrease in LDL and increase in HDL cholesterol with 5.1 grams per day for patients with type 2 diabetes. Another study, also with type-2 diabetics over 6 weeks, demonstrated increased HDL cholesterol in 125 participants by up to 45.7%.
6. Psyllium Can Help Treat Diarrhea
While psyllium is best known for its ability to treat constipation, it can also help relieve diarrhea, and for much the same reason. While constipation is an issue because the stool is not soft enough and needs water-absorbing bulk added to help move it along, diarrhea is too watery, which means it also needs more water-absorbing bulk.
A study done with 30 cancer patients undergoing radiation showed that psyllium husk decreased episodes of diarrhea. A different study of participants with lactulose-induced diarrhea showed that psyllium husk slowed down their stomach emptying in time enough to give them fewer bowel movements. Basically, psyllium can soften hard stools and firm up soft ones, helping to normalize your bowel movements and make you more regular.
7. Psyllium May Be Good for Your Heart
Water-soluble fibers like psyllium in your diet may help reduce your blood pressure, your blood triglycerides, and your risk of heart disease. One study found that 5 grams of psyllium taken 3 times daily for 6 weeks brought down triglycerides by 26%, and another found that 36 participants with high blood pressure saw a beneficial reduction by eating 12 grams of psyllium fiber per day.
Safety and Dosage
Studies suggest psyllium seems to be well tolerated by most people, with the mild side effects reported being kept to some gas, bloating, or cramping complaints, and even rarer instances of allergic reactions like itching and rashes due to both handling or ingestion of fiber. There is some speculation that taking psyllium could delay the absorption of some medications, so if you’re on medications, consult with a health care professional before adding psyllium husk powders or supplements to your routine.
As far as dosage, there are many options in form and delivery, from whole psyllium husks, powdered psyllium seed husks that can be mixed in with foods or drinks, or capsule forms of each that can be swallowed whole. Taken at least once a day with meals, between 5-10 grams should suffice, though the above-linked studies were done with intakes from as much as 3-20.4 grams per day. Start on the lower end, and increase the dosage only if you experience no other side effects.
One last bit of info: there are psyllium husk keto and low-carb recipes you could use to make especially sure you’re taking psyllium husk with your meal (it is your meal). You can even use psyllium husk to substitute when ingredients call for chia or flaxseeds.
Psyllium for Digestion
Psyllium husk fiber, in whatever form you choose, is a cholesterol-lowering digestive and weight-loss aid that you may want to look into. Find a high-quality source of this supplement, and consult a doctor if you have any concerns about your medications or digestive conditions. Aside from that, the reports show psyllium husk to be a high-fiber albeit gentle aid to digestive health!