What Is Psyllium?

This fiber supplement can ease constipation and lower cholesterol

Psyllium is a form of soluble fiber sourced from the husks of the psyllium (Plantago ovata) seed. This plant is native to Asia and grows most predominantly in India, but it can be found worldwide. In fact, it grows wild in the southwest U.S.

Some people may need a fiber supplement such as psyllium to help with a range of health issues. Psyllium is sold under a wide variety of brand names but is probably best known as Metamucil.

This article discusses the potential benefits of psyllium, how to take it, and how to potentially get the same benefits from food in your diet.

benefits of taking psyllium
Verywell / Cindy Chung

What Is Psyllium?

As a source of soluble fiber, psyllium slows digestion, allowing the body to absorb nutrients from your food as it passes through the stomach and intestines.

There are four types of soluble fiber you might hear about:

  1. Pectins: Found in some fruits, some vegetables, and legumes
  2. Beta-glucan: Found in grains such as oats
  3. Inulin: Available in chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, and as a food additive for protein bars and other foods
  4. Naturally-occurring gums: Found in some seaweed and some seeds; psyllium falls into this category

Psyllium is much like other sources of soluble fiber found in foods such as oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. Like those, it attracts water as it goes through the digestive system and turns into a gel-like substance that helps with digestion.

Soluble fiber is said to help with a wide range of health issues, including:

Constipation

Increasing your intake of soluble fiber helps you have regular bowel movements. As psyllium makes its way down your digestive tract, it absorbs water in the intestines, swells, and contributes to the formation of a gel-like stool that's soft and easy to pass.

incorporating psyllium into your daily routine has been shown to improve constipation and quality of life.

High Cholesterol

Adding soluble fiber to your diet may help to lower your cholesterol. In fact, products with psyllium products are allowed by the Food and Drug Administration to make the health claim that they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol.

Soluble fiber interferes with the absorption of bile acids in the intestines, which forces the bile acids to be excreted out in the stool. To make up for the lost bile acid, the liver has to use cholesterol. In this process, levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol are reduced. That's good news for your overall cholesterol numbers.

Consuming 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day can lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by 5 to 11 points.

If you're on statin drugs or bile acid sequestrants to manage your cholesterol, you can combine daily psyllium into your routine to get even better results. In studies, this kind of combination resulted in bigger decreases in cholesterol and an improvement in symptoms associated with the drugs, such as nausea.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

A meta-analysis evaluated dietary fiber supplementation in 14 randomized controlled trials that included 906 patients with IBS. The results show that found that fiber supplements (especially psyllium) reduced symptoms associated with IBS.

IBS is a common chronic gastrointestinal disorder. It's widely believed that getting too little dietary fiber is one contributing cause. In people with IBS, soluble fiber is believed to cause less abdominal pain, abdominal bloating/distension, and flatulence than insoluble fiber.

Diabetes

Some research suggests that soluble fiber such as psyllium may help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. Specifically, researchers have found that taking psyllium before meals can significantly improve your fasting blood glucose (sugar) when you have type 2 diabetes.

Weight Management

Soluble fiber is also said to help you feel full after eating. This can help prevent you from overeating and allows you to better control your weight. Psyllium supplementation can also help you to feel less hungry between meals.

Recap

Psyllium is a source of soluble fiber, which absorbs water and forms a gel in the digestive tract. Consuming more soluble fiber in the form of psyllium helps to slow down the process of digesting food, giving your body a chance to get more nutrients out of the food you eat.

The benefits of soluble fiber are far-reaching, with research showing that it can help with constipation, cholesterol, IBS, and diabetes.

Possible Side Effects

There are several common side effects that can occur when taking fiber supplements, including gas and bloating.

It's important to drink enough fluids while taking psyllium, or else you can worsen the constipation or cramping that fiber is meant to relieve. Drink at least one 8-ounce glass of water with the supplement, and at least six to eight glasses throughout the day.

Being physically active also helps reduce the risk of constipation when taking psyllium.

Some people have severe or allergic reactions to psyllium. If you have any of the following symptoms after taking the supplement, contact your doctor immediately:

  • Breathing problems
  • Stomach pain
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Nausea and vomiting

Certain people should avoid taking psyllium. If you have a bowel spasms, difficulty swallowing, kidney disease, or a narrowing or obstruction anywhere in your digestive tract, talk to your doctor before you start using soluble fiber supplements. Psyllium may also be a problem for people on certain types of medication.

Children should not take psyllium unless it's recommended by their doctor.

Dosage and Preparation 

Psyllium comes in many forms—as a powder, granules, capsule, liquid, and wafer. Only take the recommended dosage and be sure that you drink at least the amount of water or liquid required for that dosage. Without adequate liquid, you may become constipated or develop a bowel obstruction.

If you are not used to taking psyllium, it's best to begin with a low dose such as 1/2 teaspoon of powder in an 8 ounce glass of water once a day. Gradually, you can increase the dose as needed.

The Institute of Medicine recommends a fiber intake of about 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men (adults ages 21 to 50). Older adults tend to consume fewer calories, so the recommendation for women and men over 50 is 21 grams and 30 grams a day, respectively.

Psyllium should be taken at least one hour before any medications or two to four hours afterward because it can interfere with the absorption of those drugs.

While allergic reactions are not common, some people are highly sensitive to psyllium. Contact your doctor if you show signs of an allergy such as hives, difficult breathing, facial swelling, or swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat.

Dietary Changes

Before incorporating a fiber supplement like psyllium, consider whether you can increase your fiber consumption by changing your diet. To get more soluble fiber every day, look to oats, barley, nuts, seeds, legumes (such as beans, lentils, and peas), vegetables, and fruits like apples, oranges, and grapefruit.

Insoluble fiber is found in fruits with edible peels or seeds, vegetables, whole-grain products (such as whole-wheat bread, pasta, and crackers), bulgur wheat, stone ground cornmeal, cereals, bran, rolled oats, buckwheat, and brown rice.

While there's no dietary reference intake for soluble or insoluble fiber, many experts recommend that about one-quarter of your total daily dietary fiber intake—about 6 to 8 grams—come from soluble fiber.

Summary

The benefits of psyllium supplements are well documented. Taking it daily in the form of capsules, wafers, or dissolved crystals can improve IBS and diabetes while lowering your cholesterol. It’s a natural laxative that helps with constipation, too.

Start with a small amount of psyllium and slowly increase the dosage so your system can get used to the change and adapt. Drink extra water to prevent constipation, and adjust your dosage to manage other side effects.

Keep in mind that you can also increase your intake of soluble fiber by consuming more whole foods that contain it. These include oats, nuts, vegetables, and whole-grain products.

A Word From Verywell

Although psyllium may be helpful in treating certain types of occasional constipation and may have benefits when taken for other conditions, it's best used in combination with other treatments and preventive strategies that may include diet, lifestyle changes, and medication. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is psyllium bad for you?

    Quite the contrary: For most healthy people, psyllium offers a variety of benefits. Only people with certain conditions are advised to not take psyllium, such as those with digestive conditions, kidney disease, or who have trouble swallowing. Children should not be given psyllium without a healthcare provider's guidance.

  • Can I safely take psyllium every day?

    It depends why you're taking it. If you're treating constipation, you should use psyllium for no longer than one week. As a fiber supplement, you may be able to take it every day but you should only do so with your healthcare provider's guidance.

  • Is psyllium the same thing as Metamucil?

    Metamucil is one brand name of fiber supplements that contain psyllium. Others include Fiberall, Maalox Daily Fiber Therapy, and Hydrocil. All are available over the counter.

Was this page helpful?
12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bruma Jose M. Satiety effects of psyllium in healthy volunteers. Appetite. 2016 Oct 1;105:27-36. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.04.041

  2. MedlinePlus. Soluble and insoluble fiber.

  3. Lever E, Cole J, Scott SM, Emery PW, Whelan K. Systematic review: the effect of prunes on gastrointestinal function. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014;40(7):750-8. doi:10.1111/apt.12913

  4. National Lipid Association. Adding soluble fiber to lower your cholesterol.

  5. Lambeau KV, McRorie JW. Fiber supplements and clinically proven health benefits: How to recognize and recommend an effective fiber therapy. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2017 Apr; 29(4): 216–223. doi:10.1002/2327-6924.12447

  6. Moayyedi P, Quigley EM, Lacy BE, et al. The effect of fiber supplementation on irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014;109(9):1367-74. doi:10.1038/ajg.2014.195

  7. Gibb RD, McRorie JW Jr, Russell DA, Hasselblad V, D'Alessio DA. Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec;102(6):1604-14. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.106989

  8. Mount Sinai Hospital. Psyllium information.

  9. MedlinePlus. Psyllium.

  10. Proctor & Gamble. Metamucil.

  11. Food Information Council Foundation. Fiber fact sheet.

  12. University of Michigan Health. Psyllium.

Additional Reading