Health Benefits of Taking Psyllium

psyllium husk powder
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Psyllium is a fiber supplement, used primarily for the treatment of constipation as it's a good source of soluble fiber. As a supplement, psyllium is derived from the seed husks of a plant called Plantago ovata. This plant grows most predominantly in India as it is native to Asia, but can be found worldwide, including growing wildly in the southwest U.S.

Psyllium is sold under a wide variety of names but is probably best known as Metamucil®.

Psyllium for Constipation

The most common medical use for psyllium is as a treatment for constipation. The soluble fiber of psyllium resists fermentation by gut bacteria. Psyllium adds bulk and pulls water into the stool which contributes to a gel-like stool consistency that is easier to pass. The increased bulk of the stool also helps to stimulate movement within the large intestine and therefore prompting a more regular pattern of bowel movements. There is solid research support for the use of psyllium in easing constipation.

Psyllium for IBS

Psyllium has also been investigated for its effectiveness in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Overall, due to its soluble fiber content, psyllium is thought to provide some overall relief from IBS symptoms. (Insoluble fiber may worsen IBS symptoms). Psyllium's bulking effects on the stool make it a good choice even if the predominant bowel problem is diarrhea as it soaks up water and firms up the stool.

Psyllium for Other Health Problems

In addition to its use for intestinal problems, psyllium may also be helpful in:

  • Easing hemorrhoids
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Stabilizing blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Lowering the risk for cardiovascular and coronary heart disease
  • Weight loss

There are some indications that psyllium may help to reduce your risk of colon cancer, but the research to date is not conclusive.

Psyllium may be helpful for some people who have inflammatory bowel disease, but the amount used is very crucial as too much fiber can serve to worsen symptoms.

How to Take Psyllium

Psyllium comes in many forms - as a powder, liquid, capsule or wafer. It is always taken by mouth. It is important to start off with a small dose to allow your body to adjust to the increase in fiber. Discuss the dosage amounts with your doctor and be sure to follow package directions. You must drink at least 8 ounces of water each time you take psyllium.

It is important to know that ingesting psyllium may affect the absorption of other medications that you may be taking. Discuss with your doctor how best to time the doses of your regular medications and your taking of psyllium. They may recommend leaving some time between taking psyllium and taking your other medications.

If using as a laxative, psyllium should only be used for seven days. Psyllium can be used for longer periods of time as a fiber supplement, but only with your doctor's permission.

Overall psyllium supplements are seen as generally safe. You may experience some increased intestinal gas and bloating but this should ease as your body adjusts to your increased fiber intake. In extremely rare cases, choking can occur if a person does not drink enough water alongside the intake of psyllium.

Who Should Not Take Psyllium

Psyllium is not recommended for use in:

  • Children, unless recommended by the child's doctor
  • Anyone who has kidney disease, also unless recommended by their doctor
  • Anyone who has any difficulty swallowing
  • Anyone who has a narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture)
  • Anyone who has any other narrowing or any obstructions anywhere in their digestive system
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