Psyllium: Health benefits beyond treating constipaiton

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Psyllium: Health benefits beyond treating constipaiton

Ever heard of psyllium?  If you are familiar with Metamucil then there is a good chance you know about this soluble fiber.   Metamucil is a brand name and is a well-known fiber supplement sold in powder or pill form containing psyllium (pronounced SILL-ee-um) husk which acts as an effective laxative.  People with constipation have relied on this form of fiber for relief made from the husks of seeds from the Plantago ovata plant found most common in India. 

Besides being a laxative, psyllium has far more benefits beyond treating constipation.  Here are the other uses of psyllium that can improve your health:

1.  Constipation

Let’s start with constipation as this one is obvious but how does psyllium help with this malady?  Psyllium is a good source of soluble fiber and when combined with water, it swells creating a bulkier stool, hence why it’s known as a “bulk forming” laxative.  This stimulates the intestines to contract, speeding the passage of a softer stool through the digestive system.  It will take 12 to 24 hours to affect bowel movements and be sure to drink extra water when using it.

2.  Blood cholesterol levels

Thanks to psyllium’s soluble fiber content it is particularly effective for lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.   A study from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, found that when people taking a low-dose statin drug to lower their cholesterol added a psyllium supplement along with it, their LDL levels dropped an additional six percent.  This was just as effective as doubling the dose of a statin but in a more natural way.

Psyllium works by reducing amounts of smaller, denser LDL particles possibly causing arterial damage.  Both the government’s guidelines and the American Heart Association recommend psyllium for improving cholesterol levels.

3.  High blood pressure

Adding psyllium to your diet may lower blood pressure.  One study showed using psyllium fiber did show improvements in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure reducing metabolic risk factors.  The study also found psyllium fiber as an advantage as it is reasonably cheap and is better tolerated than other fiber supplements. 

4.  Weight Control

The primary way psyllium aids in controlling weight is due to the feeling of fullness it can provide possibly helping to reduce food intake.  However, don’t rely on it as a means of causing pounds to drop off.  All fiber supplements claim to be weight-loss methods but in reality that is overstated.  Increasing any kind of fiber tends to create fullness but weight loss will only occur when total calories are reduced.

5.  Diabetes

Diets high in fiber may help lower insulin and blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.  Again, if it can keep a person from overeating and choosing too many foods high in carbohydrates, than it could be of benefit.  Don’t expect it by itself to treat diabetes and always consult with your physician before taking it on your own.

6.  Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Several studies have shown that soluble fiber, including psyllium, may help relieve some symptoms of IBS, such as diarrhea, constipation, and pain.  Other studies have found mixed results.  Be sure to work closely with your physician to decide if psyllium fiber is right for you.

Cautions on taking psyllium

Psyllium may cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation (if a person does not drink enough water).  Some people can be allergic to psyllium also.  To avoid unpleasant side effects start with a low dosage gradually increasing it over time.  See how your body handles psyllium and any other sources of fiber in your diet.

Be aware some medications can be less effective if you are taking psyllium - always ask your pharmacist about this.  They may advise to take the medication either one hour before or two hours after taking psyllium.