As the name goes, psyllium husks are the outer seed coverings of a plant, Plantago ovata. A plant of Indian origin, this plantago species is cultivated on a large scale for the extraction of psyllium husks. They contain a higher percentage of fiber than the popularly consumed whole grains. Thus, including whole psyllium husks in a diet is a simple way to meet one's daily fiber requirement.
Psyllium seed husks are known by the common names, plantago, ispaghula, and psyllium seeds. Serving 100 g of these seed husks is equivalent to 71 g of dietary fiber. Thus, they are used as a base ingredient for formulation of dietary fiber supplements. Whole psyllium husks can be consumed as they are, or they are further dried for making other easy-to-consume products. You will get coarsely chopped psyllium husks or ground form. The powder version is popularly used in baking gluten-free goodies.
When added in water, psyllium husks swell and form a gelatinous substance, known as mucilage. After ingestion, they are not digested like other food items, but absorb water and add mass to the feces. Since these seed husks have a high capacity of moisture absorption, additional water intake is a must.
Adding psyllium husks in the regular diet plan benefits in maintaining good bowel health. It serves as a natural bulk laxative and helps in smooth bowel movement. With regular intake along with adequate water, passing softer stool without straining is almost guaranteed.
Treating Digestive Problems
Whole psyllium husks are beneficial for combating common digestive problems, like constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and diverticular conditions. Treating constipation is also effective for ensuring normal bowel habit without straining, and combating painful hemorrhoids.
They are commonly used in natural colon cleansing. They absorb moisture, form solid bulk, and pass through the digestive tract. In the process, accumulated wastes from the GI tract are removed and expelled as fecal matter. Thus, these seed husks are purported as excellent choices for colon cleanse and detoxification.
Studies conducted have shown that consuming these seed products lowers blood sugar levels and reduces the need of insulin amongst patients with type-2 diabetes. It is also claimed that regular intake of soluble fiber is effective for reducing long-term diabetic complications.
It benefits in reducing high cholesterol levels. The soluble fiber adheres to the bad cholesterol in the bloodstream, and removes it. So, people having high cholesterol are advised to consume food sources that contain soluble fiber in more amounts.
As with any fiber-rich food, eating psyllium husks gives a satiating feeling for a longer period and reduces appetite. A study was conducted to analyze the relation between high fiber intake and reduction in body weight. Overweight people who incorporated high fiber in the diet achieved greater weight loss than others.
In Ayurveda, psyllium husks are mentioned as effective food sources to improve blood circulation. Besides this, they are effectual for reducing high blood pressure, reducing heart diseases, and minimizing the risks of colon cancer. But, more clinical trials are required to support these claims.
When taken in adequate amounts, there are no major adverse effects of psyllium husks. The only thing is to start taking them in small amounts, and increase the serving amount gradually. Otherwise, a large intake of these fiber-rich husks at one go can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. Other probable side effects are related to choking, allergies, and hypersensitive responses of the immune system. They are not recommended for people who have dysphagia or difficulty swallowing. Without adequate water intake, the risks for obstruction in the esophagus and digestive tract are very high.
People having abnormalities of the digestive tract, and those who have undergone intestinal surgeries should be more cautious while taking psyllium. One word of caution is to seek medical advice before using them as a dietary supplement.