Psyllium Husk: More than just an effective natural laxative


Last Updated June 13th, 2021

What is psyllium husk?

Psyllium husk is a fiber from the husks (seed coat) of the plant Plantago ovate. It mainly grows in India. It is a fiber and acts as a bulking laxative (a substance that promotes better bowel movements). It triggers the muscular movement in the intestine to enable bowel evacuation. It is commercially sold in the name of Isabgol in India. It can either be in the form of a capsule, husk, or in the powder form.

The fiber is resistant in nature (it passes via the digestive system in its intact form and does not get absorbed by the body). It is used to treat conditions like diarrhea, high blood sugar levels,  constipation, high blood pressure, weight gain, and also for high cholesterol

Prebiotics are substances that promote the growth and development of good bacteria in the digestive tract and psyllium husk is an example of this. This good bacteria help in healthy digestion or nutrient absorption, a healthy bowel evacuation and also in the fight against other infectious microbes. When you mix psyllium husk in water or other liquids, it will swell up.

How can psyllium husk benefit you?

Used to treat constipation as well as diarrhea

Firstly, it binds to the incompletely digested food as it enters the small intestine for nutrient absorption. It then pulls the water in, and this phenomenon helps in stool bulking and stool moistening. Eventually, an individual will be able to pass his bowels with ease.

Psyllium husk makes the stool soft without causing any flatulence. It stimulates bowel evacuation regularly and improves overall digestive health. Apart from treating constipation, you must be wondering that it may be problematic for coping up with diarrhea, right? That is not true. Because of its bulking ability, it helps the solidification of stools and its slow passage from the intestine.

In diarrhea, the stools become watery. So psyllium husk makes the stool sticky, increases stool thickness and thus enables slow evacuation of the stools. Psyllium husk works both ways: cures constipation and also lowers the intensity of diarrhea.

Psyllium husk lowers the blood sugar levels

Diabetes is a condition of high blood glucose levels. This can be either due to insufficient insulin secretion or due to insulin resistance. The moment you consume food, the blood sugar levels increase. The insulin (a hormone) gets secreted to convert the excess blood glucose levels to a storage form. Psyllium husk reduces both the blood sugar levels and also the insulin levels. This is because of its water-absorbing properties that enable slow digestion and thus, regulates the blood sugar levels.

Because of the reduction in the digestion speed, even the carbohydrates get digested at a slower rate. That is why blood sugar levels do not spike up. It is advisable for you to consume it along with your food rather than consuming it separately.

You tend to feel full and this will help in weight loss

Psyllium husk absorbs water.  This will make you feel full. Your appetite will reduce of course. Also, there are reports that the inclusion of a fiber-rich diet along with the consumption of psyllium husk showed a great reduction in weight and amount of body fat. There are some studies which don’t show any bodyweight reduction with psyllium husk. More research is required.

Lower your cholesterol levels

The artery is a blood capillary that conveys oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The foods we consume contain cholesterol and these get converted to lipoproteins (lipids that are bound to proteins). These lipoproteins are divided into two kinds: low-density lipoproteins (LDL or the “bad cholesterol”), and high-density lipoproteins (HDL, the “good cholesterol”).

The LDL is bad because it is small enough to stick to the walls of the artery. This will narrow down the passage of blood or even block it resulting in increased blood pressure and this can cause a heart attack or a stroke (brain damage dues to blockage or intervention of the blood flow to the brain). On the other hand, the HDL pulls LDL along with it (about 1/3rd of the LDL gets taken by HDL) and thus prevents the LDL from sticking and building up plaque.

There are reports that suggest that the bile acid production increased and this reduced the LDL levels. Now, what is bile acid? It is a product produced by the liver from the cholesterol we consume. The bile acid is transported to the intestine for digestion. After digestion, these used bile acids are returned back and this causes a build-up of cholesterol (in addition to the food intake).

The fibers of psyllium husk bind to the bile acids and post-digestion, the recycling of this bile acid gets disabled. The fibers, upon binding to the bile acid, promote the excretion of the used bile acid. So, the liver will have to produce fresh bile acid from the cholesterol. That is why cholesterol levels decrease. Psyllium can also help in increasing the good cholesterol levels.

Psyllium husk for a healthy heart

The World Health Organization reported about 12.8% of the worldwide deaths can be linked to hypertension (high blood pressure). When there is a high salt intake, the cells tend to lose out their water content as the concentration of the salt outside the cell is more than what is inside the cell. The water from these cells gets extruded out into the blood. This will increase the blood volume and thus, increases the blood pressure. Psyllium husk absorbs the water and tends to swell up. This decreases the blood volume thereby showing a decrease in the blood pressure.

A great prebiotic agent

Prebiotic substances are indigestible entities that are vital for the growth and development of the gut bacteria. Psyllium husk is a resistant fiber. A portion of this fiber gets fermented by the intestinal bacteria and this results in the production of volatile fatty acids (or short chain fatty acids). They help in better microbial development. A good gut microbial population means good digestion and good immunity.

You should also know that this kind of fiber gets fermented or processed more leisurely than the others and that is why the incidence of gastric or any other digestive uneasiness is disabled. A treatment with psyllium husk for 4 months minimized the digestive discomforts by 69% in patients with ulcerative colitis.

Other inflammations in the digestive systems can also be used in treating conditions like Crohn’s disease (inflammation in the digestive tract lining) as well. Studies also show that a combination of psyllium husk and probiotics (like yogurt & kefir) is also very useful to treat such conditions.

Is it safe to consume psyllium husk?

Yes, it is. Psyllium husk is non-toxic. Upon taking about 10 g thrice a day  may cause bloating or gas or stomach cramps in some. About a tablespoon of this husk (5 to 10 grams) is taken with 8 ounces of water. This must be done a minimum of one time in a day. The functions of other drugs can get interrupted by psyllium husk. That is why it must not be consumed with other medicines.

  • Those who are sensitive to fiber might show an allergic response. The following uncommon effects might occur:
  • Itching
  • Skin Rashes
  • Swelling of tongue, face or throat
  • Dizziness

If at all you observe the following responses, seek medical help immediately.

  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty to breathe
  • Difficulty to swallow

If you do notice side effects other than these, contact your doctor immediately.

Other sources of resistant fiber

There are many food sources of this resistant fiber that also is a good prebiotic.

Psyllium Husk in a nutshell

Psyllium husk is a non-toxic bulk-forming laxative. It slows down the digestion but also provides more room for fermentation to produce products that enhance the growth of the good bacteria in the gut. It is available everywhere and must not be overdone. It not just regularizes your bowels but also helps you reduce your cravings and also minimizes the accumulation of bad cholesterol in the body. Psyllium husk is another remarkable example of a plant-based product and the benefits rendered by it with contentment.

More than any supplements, there are lifestyle changes you can include to help yourself free off any constipation problems. Indulge in an exercise regime for at least 30 minutes every day. Drinking sufficient water and consume a balanced diet that contains fibers as well. If at all there is a need for psyllium husk supplements, make sure you do not take any medications with it and consult the doctor first.


TL;DR?

 

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