Psyllium husk or isphagula is the covering of seeds grown on the plant, Plantago Psyllium, which flourishes in the Middle East. Psyllium husk has long been recognized as an excellent means of getting more dietary fiber into a person’s diet due to its high fiber count in comparison to other grains. Oat bran, also a good source of fiber, has about five grams of fiber per a third of a cup. Psyllium husk, on the other hand, offers approximately 71 grams of fiber for that same third of a cup.
This heavy dose of dietary fiber makes psyllium the choice of many who manufacture dietary fiber supplements and powders like Metamucil. For those suffering from constipation or diarrhea, appropriate daily dietary fiber intake can help improve these conditions. As psyllium husk travels through the human digestive tract, it absorbs water, but is not digested. This results in stool that is bulkier, but also softer, translating to fewer problems with passing stool.
Although most associate psyllium husk with improving digestion, clinical studies on isphagula have also shown that it is beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol. Of course, cholesterol is more likely to be lowered when combined with a low fat diet. Yet even with a higher fat diet, psyllium, when taken regularly, lowers low-density lipoproteins, known as “bad cholesterol” by about 7%.
Some studies have also suggested that regular use of psyllium supplements may help pass more fat in stools, translating to weight loss. Other studies suggest psyllium may also be helpful in lowering blood sugar counts. These studies are still in their infancy and have yet to truly prove that psyllium husk can be beneficial in these ways.
It is important to be careful with psyllium. Some complain of bloating or gas when first using the product. Most doctors suggest taking several weeks to work up to a full dose of this dietary fiber. Early reactions might include diarrhea and flatulence.
Some people are severely allergic to psyllium. This is especially true of those who handle large amounts of psyllium husk to prepare laxatives. Some have had anaphylactic shock reactions to taking psyllium. Intestinal obstruction may also be a risk for some, particularly those who have had surgery on the intestines or bowels.
The most important thing to remember when taking psyllium husk is to take it with lots of water. Drinking a full glass with the supplement, and six or seven more glasses a day is recommended. This may be easy to remember if you’re taking a supplement like Metamucil, but don’t forget that plenty of high fiber cereals like Bran Buds and Heartwise contain psyllium and should be consumed with a large glass of water on the side, and at least six more glasses of water during the day.