Most people don't realize fiber's powerful impacts to the body, especially since it’s been linked to roles in optimal body function, such as promoting good gut bacteria health, enhancing immune system function, helping produce other types of blood cells and helping lower risk of premature death from any cause. However, not all people consume enough fiber to meet their daily needs, and this can negatively impact your health.
This is where psyllium husk can come in, given that it's been described as a high-fiber source that can assist people dealing with fiber-related problems. This page will help you learn where psyllium husk comes from, its uses and benefits, and how much of it you should be taking.
What Is Psyllium Husk?
Psyllium husk is derived from seeds of the shrub-like Plantago ovata plant, which produces nearly 15,000 tiny seeds.1 The plant is most common in India, although it is already grown worldwide.2 Psyllium husk, a soluble fiber sometimes called isphagula,3 is typically used as a bulk-forming laxative.4 It assimilates water and swells and develops into a gelatin-like mass once it is eaten, assists with moving waste through the intestinal tract, and provides water and volume to stools.5
Whole psyllium husk is usually available as a powder or as a wafer, although capsules, granules and even liquid that can be bought from retailers or stores.6 However, I encourage that you purchase 100 percent pure organic psyllium husk only, as most psyllium crops have been treated with chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
By purchasing organic psyllium husk, you can ensure that there’s a lower risk of these substances entering the body and causing further harm. Some psyllium supplement brands also tend to utilize synthetic or semi-synthetic active ingredients that don’t contain psyllium, such as methylcellulose and calcium polycarbophil.
Avoid buying psyllium husk powder containing additives or sweeteners too, because these can have a negative effect on your microbiome and possibly trigger side effects.
Health Benefits of Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk's health benefits can be attributed to its dietary fiber content. Soluble fibers like psyllium husk are prebiotics that facilitate the nourishment of beneficial bacteria in your gut. These beneficial bacteria help with proper digestion and absorption of food and play a role in improved immune function.
Furthermore, increasing your intake of dietary fiber from sources like psyllium husk can reduce your risk for diseases. Research has shown that the more dietary fiber you consume, the lower the risk of developing colorectal cancers, such as incident colorectal adenoma and distant colon cancer.7 Plus, it’s said that colon cancer risk may be reduced by 10 percent for every 10 grams of fiber added to your diet.8
People at risk for Type 2 diabetes can also benefit from psyllium husk because of its potential to improve glycemic control.9 On the other hand, diabetics who need to watch their diet and glucose levels can take psyllium husk, because it’s been suggested that it can assist with maintaining glycemic responses to meals and assist with decreasing insulin and blood sugar levels.10,11,12,13
Psyllium husk is also said to help people maintain a healthy weight and shed a few pounds, since it can absorb liquid in the body and induce a feeling of satiety. As Medical News Today highlights, there are viscous compounds in psyllium husk that may help with appetite control.14,15,16
Lastly, some studies revealed that psyllium husk may be helpful in optimizing cholesterol ratios17,18 and in promoting bile acid synthesis,19 potentially paving the way for improved heart health. Psyllium husk may aid in lowering the risk for heart disease20 by decreasing blood pressure levels21,22 and improving good cholesterol levels.23,24
Uses of Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk has been primarily utilized as a bulk laxative that soaks up water in the gut, softens stool, and enables easier and smoother bowel movements.25 Psyllium husk can also assist in promoting regular bowel movements without increasing flatulence and in counteracting constipation and mild to moderate diarrhea.26,27
As a fiber source, psyllium husk can be used to cleanse your colon. This organ, which is part of the body’s digestive tract, is responsible for removing water and bacteria and assisting with food breakdown so it leaves the body.28,29 Psyllium husk powder may also be utilized for combatting these diseases:
• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): A high-fiber source like psyllium husk can assist with addressing IBS.
• Gallstones and kidney stones: Fiber in psyllium husk may aid in regulating blood sugar levels, potentially helping decrease risk for gallstones and kidney stones.
If you wish to improve skin health, taking psyllium husk powder can be a good step. Forbes Magazine notes that dietary fiber can help lead yeast and fungus out of the body instead of being eliminated through the skin, where they can cause acne and rashes.30
Ideally, people must strive to get a minimum of 50 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. However, a serving of organic whole husk psyllium powder only provides around 3 grams of soluble fiber, so if you want to meet your daily fiber requirements, you should consider adding high amounts of fiber-rich foods into your meals.
Studies on Psyllium Husk
Some researchers have discovered that psyllium husk can lead to positive effects when it comes to:
• Heart health in general: In a 2011 British Journal of Nutrition study, researchers discovered that a psyllium supplement, combined with fiber-rich foods from a healthy diet, delivered the greatest improvements in metabolic syndrome risk factors.31
• Triglyceride levels: This 2009 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study explained the potential effects of psyllium on serum lipids. Researchers suggested that psyllium treatment can assist in lowering triglyceride levels, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, among Type 2 diabetes patients.32
• Blood sugar levels: This study, involving male Type 2 diabetes and hypercholesterolemia patients, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999. Researchers stated that adding psyllium to a traditional diet for diabetes patients is safe, well-tolerated and improves glycemic and lipid control.33
Since psyllium husk was touted as a notable source of dietary fiber, particular studies have proven that fiber can assist in preventing some diseases:
• According to this study published in the journal Stroke in 2013, a person’s stroke risk is decreased by 7 percent for every 7 grams more fiber a person consumes daily.34
• Researchers who spearheaded this 1998 Journal of Nutrition study emphasized that dietary fiber (especially insoluble fiber) can lower a person’s risk for diverticulitis by 40 percent.35
Does Psyllium Husk Have Side Effects?
While most people who take psyllium husk generally feel fine, there are some who experience minor side effects with this supplement. Should this happen, consult a doctor or health professional immediately.
For starters, psyllium husk powder can lead to gas or abdominal cramps. There is also a threat of choking linked to psyllium husk, and people may experience chest pains, vomiting and difficulty swallowing or breathing. This is why it’s advised that psyllium husk must be taken with or mixed in a full glass of high-quality filtered water or other liquid to prevent the powder from amassing in the throat and choking.
Serious allergic reactions to psyllium husk are rare. However, if you or someone you know is showing signs of a serious allergic reaction such as rashes, itching or swelling of the face, tongue or throat, severe dizziness, or trouble breathing, immediate medical attention is important. Meanwhile, it's advised for people who fall under these categories to avoid taking psyllium husk:36,37
• People with stomach or intestinal blockage
• People who have swallowing difficulties
• People with a history of appendicitis or exhibit symptoms of this disease
• People with an esophageal structure (narrowing of the esophagus) or gastrointestinal tract narrowing or obstructions
• Pregnant women
It’s also advised to consult your doctor first if you have kidney disease and plan to take any form of psyllium husk.38
Psyllium Supplements Can Interact With Certain Medicines
As the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center highlights, people taking any of these medicines should avoid using psyllium husk supplements (or even powder) without consulting their doctor:39
• Tricyclic antidepressants: Psyllium husk may potentially reduce a person’s blood levels, as well as the effectiveness of antidepressants such as Amitriptyline, Doxepin and Imipramine. Effects of another antidepressant called carbamazepine, often used to treat seizures, may not be as effective and absorbed well by the body when taken alongside psyllium husk.
• Cholesterol-lowering medications (bile acid sequestrants): If you have been prescribed Cholestyramine or Colestipol and plan to take psyllium husk, take note that the combination of these two medicines may reduce cholesterol levels and decrease side effects.
• Diabetes medications: Your risk for hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels may increase if you take fiber supplements like psyllium. As much as possible, consult your doctor before increasing your intake of psyllium husk, because there may be corresponding adjustments needed for diabetic medications dosages.
• Digoxin: Taking psyllium husk may lead to reduced absorption of this heart function-regulating drug.
• Lithium: If you really need to take both lithium and psyllium husk, make sure there’s a one- to two-hour interval between dosages. This is due to the potential of psyllium husk to decrease the amount of lithium in your blood and decrease its effectiveness. Plus, make sure that your doctor should closely monitor your lithium levels.
If You Can’t Find Psyllium Husk Powder, Here Are Possible Alternatives
Retailers and organic stores now carry psyllium husk products. However, be careful about the type of psyllium husk that you buy, since there are products that might look harmless and effective, but can eventually lead to health risks. If you do not have access to psyllium husk powder, these substitutes can be helpful:40
• Flaxseed: Just like psyllium husk, flaxseed, also called linseed, has the potential to add bulk to stool and help address constipation because it may work as a laxative.
• Glucomannan (in small doses): Glucomannan is a type of natural fiber that's a natural thickening agent and is said to aid with weight control. It is derived from the root of the konjac plant, which is also called devil's tongue yam.41
Aside from these substitutes for psyllium husk powder, I also recommend naturally increasing your fiber intake through your diet. Here are some of the best fiber-rich foods you can consume:42
Green and snowy peas
Psyllium Husk’s Potential Is Unparalleled
Psyllium husk, especially the organic variety, has proven its worth in delivering important health benefits. I firmly believe that taking organic psyllium husk is one of the most crucial ways to raise your dietary fiber intake, probably even more so than other foods. Studies have also verified that psyllium husk does exert some positive effects towards certain conditions.
Just remember that 100 percent organic psyllium husk is still the most ideal type of psyllium husk that you should purchase, given its low risk of being sprayed with harmful pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. If you want to take this therapeutically, though consult a doctor or health professional first to determine the psyllium husk dosage that's optimal for your condition.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Psyllium Husk
Q: What is psyllium husk powder?
A: Psyllium husk powder comes from the psyllium husk, which is derived from the seeds of a plant called Plantago ovata. The plant is most common in India and produces 15,000 tiny seeds.
Q: What is psyllium husk good for?
A: Psyllium husk happens to be a good source of dietary fiber. If taken constantly, psyllium husk can be beneficial for improving overall health and body function because it can:
• Act as a prebiotic that nourishes beneficial bacteria
• Assist with lowering risk for certain diseases
• Help maintain healthy glycemic control among diabetes patients
• Help with weight maintenance and weight loss
• Aid with optimizing cholesterol ratios and promoting better heart health
Q: Is psyllium husk gluten-free?
A: There's no confirmation stating that psyllium husk is gluten-free, although various cookbooks have emphasized that psyllium husk can be used as a substitute for certain types of flours, especially in baking.43,44,45
Q: What are the uses of psyllium husk?
A: Psyllium husk is known as a laxative that softens stool and helps promote easier, smoother and more regular bowel movements, and is said to aid with alleviating constipation. Furthermore, it is suggested that psyllium husk can be used for:
• Cleansing the colon and helping move waste out of the body
• Improving skin health
• Helping address diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
• Helping lower the risk of developing gallstones and kidney stones
Q: How can you take psyllium husk?
A: It is advised that psyllium husk powder must be taken with a full glass of high-quality filtered water or another type of liquid to prevent choking.
Q: When is it best to take psyllium husk?
A: There is actually no specific timetable for taking psyllium husk. I recommend taking psyllium before or during mealtimes, along with liquids such as water.