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 that’s most common in India, although it is already grown worldwide. Each plant is said to produce nearly 15,000 tiny and gel-coated seeds. Psyllium husk, a form of soluble fiber that’s sometimes called isphagula, is typically used as a gentle, bulk-forming laxative. When psyllium husk comes in contact with water in the body, it swells and develops into a gelatin-like mass that assists with moving waste through the intestinal tract.1,2
Whole psyllium husk is usually available as a powder or as a wafer, although capsules, granules and even liquid can be bought from retailers or stores.3 However, I encourage that you purchase organic psyllium husk only, since there is a possibility that you can reap more benefits from this type of psyllium and avoid potential health risks.
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 the lining of 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.4 Plus, it’s said that for every 10 grams of fiber added to a diet, colon cancer risk may be reduced by 10 percent.5
People at risk for type 2 diabetes can also benefit from psyllium husk because of its potential to improve glycemic control.6 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 sustaining a healthy glycemic balance.7
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. This helps a person control the amount of food he or she eats.8
Lastly, some studies revealed that psyllium husk may be helpful in optimizing cholesterol ratios9 and promoting heart health. Psyllium husk may aid in lowering the risk for heart disease10,11 by decreasing blood pressure levels, improving lipid levels and strengthening the heart muscle.
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. Psyllium husk can also assist in promoting regular bowel movements without increasing flatulence, in counteracting constipation and in helping address other conditions like hemorrhoids and anal fissures, both of which are commonly aggravated if a person is constipated.12
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, assisting with food breakdown and preparing it to leave the body.13 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 providing relief from IBS.
- Gallstones and kidney stones: Following a high-fiber diet can assist with decreasing risk for gallstones and kidney stones, probably because of fiber’s ability to aid with regulating blood sugar levels.
If you wish to improve skin health, taking psyllium husk powder can be a good step. Dietary fiber can help move yeast and fungus out of the body instead of being excreted through the skin, where they can cause acne and rashes.14
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.15
- 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.16
- 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.17
Since psyllium husk was touted as a notable source of dietary fiber, particular studies have proven that fiber can assist in preventing some diseases:
- Stroke: 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.18
- Diverticulitis: 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.19
Ideal Dosage of Psyllium Husk
Ideally, people must shoot for a minimum of 50 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. Personally, I take 6 tablespoons of organic psyllium daily, enough to deliver 75 grams of soluble fiber, or about half of my daily intake. However, taking organic psyllium powder three times a day (alongside various fiber-rich foods) may add as much as 18 grams of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber and bring you closer to the minimum amount mentioned earlier.
As mentioned above, only buy 100 percent pure organic psyllium husk, since most psyllium crops have been treated with chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. This ensures 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.
Lastly, avoid buying psyllium husk powder containing additives or sweeteners, because these can have a negative effect on your microbiome and possibly cause side effects too.
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, it is best to 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 powder must be taken with a least one full glass of high-quality filtered water or other liquid to prevent the powder from swelling in the throat and choking.20
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.21 Meanwhile, it's advised for people who fall under these categories to avoid taking psyllium husk:22
- People with bowel obstructions or spasms
- People who have difficulty swallowing
- People with esophageal structure (narrowing of the esophagus) or any other narrowing or obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract
If you have kidney disease, I suggest that you talk your doctor before taking psyllium husk.
Psyllium Supplements Can Interact With Certain Medicines
- Tricyclic antidepressants: Dietary fiber in psyllium was shown to reduce a person’s blood levels, and the effectiveness of these antidepressants in some people. Examples of tricyclic antidepressants include Amitriptyline, Doxepin, Imipramine and Carbamazepine. In particular, taking psyllium alongside carbamazepine (a seizure-treating medicine) can reduce its absorption and effectiveness.
- Cholesterol-lowering medications called bile acid sequestrants: Taking psyllium with bile acid sequestrants can reduce cholesterol levels and decrease side effects of Colestipol, a type of bile acid sequestrant.
- Diabetes medications: Fiber supplements may reduce blood sugar levels, increasing the possibility of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) to develop. Before taking fiber supplements, talk to your doctor first, since your dosage of diabetes medicines may need to be adjusted.
- Digoxin: Avoid taking fiber supplements like psyllium husk with digoxin, a medicine used to regulate heart function, as they can reduce the absorption of this drug.
- Lithium: Psyllium can reduce lithium’s levels in the blood and its effectiveness. Allot a one- to two-hour interval between taking prescribed doses of both psyllium and lithium. Plus, 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:25
- Flaxseed: Also known as linseed, flaxseed is utilized in food and medicine primarily as a laxative. Just like psyllium husk, flax has the potential to add bulk to stool and help address constipation.
- Chia seeds: These seeds are another possible substitute because of their fiber content — 10 grams in 2 tablespoons.
- Whole hemp seeds: Soluble and insoluble fiber that can aid with supporting digestive health are found in whole hemp seeds. These seeds are usually eaten after the hard outer shell is removed, and tend to be soft and creamy and have a slight nutty flavor.26
- 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.27
- Inulin: This water-soluble fiber can be found in onions, garlic, leeks and asparagus, and can help nourish the beneficial bacteria residing in your gut.
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 and gel-coated 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 balance among diabetes patients
- Help with weight maintenance and weight loss
- Aid with optimizing cholesterol ratios and promoting 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.30,31,32
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. It's also said to aid with alleviating constipation and other conditions that may arise because of this disease, such as hemorrhoids and anal fissures. 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.