Psyllium husk or ispaghula or isabgol is nothing but the outer covering of seeds of the plant Plantago Psyllium, found in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and North Africa. Psyllium is cultivated mainly for its mucilage content, which is highest in P. ovata. It was initially used as a herb to relieve constipation but it is now considered as the best fiber supplement. Psyllium husk powder, wafers or capsules are prescribed by dietitians and doctors. These fiber supplements are easily available in markets and are regarded as excellent sources of dietary fiber.
Psyllium fiber is an essential ingredient of high fiber breakfast cereals. It helps reduce the symptoms of both constipation and mild diarrhea. Just to bring to your notice the surprising amount of fiber in psyllium, here is an example: Oat bran, which is usually considered as rich in fiber, has about 5 grams of fiber per 1/3 rd cup, while the same quantity of psyllium husk contains around 71 grams of fiber. This is the reason why psyllium supplements are recommended for fiber.
Psyllium being a bulk-forming fiber, can make the bowel movements very easy. As it absorbs maximum water, it makes the stool soft and bulky, providing relief from constipation.
Improves Digestive Health
As seen above, it improves your digestive health. It helps in the process of removing toxins from the digestive tract. It also helps lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. But people diagnosed with diabetes should consult their doctor before taking psyllium supplements. Psyllium prevents bloating and flatulence and it also helps cure stomach and intestinal ulcers.
Improves Overall Health
Psyllium helps maintain normal blood pressure levels. It plays an important role in lowering the bad cholesterol (Low-density lipoprotein / LDL) level. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), regular intake of at least 3-12 grams of fiber can help reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels. As psyllium improves digestive health, problems like heartburn, loss of appetite, obesity go away.
Aids in Weight Loss
These days, psyllium for weight loss is a popular trend. The mucilage or soluble fiber from psyllium is easily dissolved but is not quickly digested. This fiber component can reduce your appetite by keeping you satiated for a longer time and can thus help lose weight. It helps pass more fat in stools, which in turn also helps in achieving the desired weight loss. Another important fact is that regular intake of the fiber can help eliminate old fecal matter or the impacted waste in the system; which makes up about 4 to 10 pounds of your body weight. Thus, it can instantly offer you a lighter feeling.
Psyllium Side Effects
Psyllium husk fiber should not be consumed by children under seven years, by pregnant women, by people having diabetes, by those who have difficulty in swallowing or any stomach problems. Some of the commonly observed psyllium side effects are:
- Gastrointestinal obstruction
- Chest pain
- Trouble swallowing
- Nausea or dizziness
- Swelling on the tongue, lips or face
- Allergic reactions like breathing problems, skin rash, hives and anaphylaxis.
Remember, if you are allergic to pollen and melon, then you are likely to develop allergic reactions to psyllium fiber. Start with a very small amount of psyllium and gradually increase the dose (under the guidance of your doctor), so that your body system slowly gets used to the supplement. If you notice any side effects, you should immediately discontinue the supplement and consult your physician.
To prevent side effects of psyllium, you should drink lots of water. You should drink one full glass of water with every psyllium dose and at least 6 - 7 glasses afterwards, throughout the day. Insufficient water intake can cause dehydration or severe digestive problems as the fiber from psyllium absorbs water in the digestive tract.
If you are taking any other prescription drugs, then the medicines should be taken at least two hours before or after psyllium intake. Otherwise, the drugs will not be effective. If you have any other medical complications, then you should consult your physician before opting for a psyllium supplement.