As a plant, Psyllium is a shrub like medicinal herb which is found predominantly in Asia, especially in India. However, commercial production of this herb can also be seen in Russia and some European countries.
What is Psyllium?
Psyllium is an herbal plant which is scientifically known as Plantago Ovata. Psyllium is also popularly known as – ispaghula, isabgol, Indian plantago, Spanish psyllium etc. It is said that the genus Plantago has more than 200 related species. Spanish Psyllium is black in color and is derived from the plant P. psyllium L.
The Indian Plantago is white in color and is derived from P. ovate. The term Isabgol is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘asp’ and ‘ghol’ which when combined together simply means a ‘horse flower’.
This herb can reach up to a height of 40 cm and has small white colored flowers. The husk derived from the seeds of Psyllium is known for its medicinal properties. A single plant of Psyllium usually can produce about 15,000 tiny coated seeds that are commercially used for the production of mucilage.
In Ayurvedic science in India, Psyllium husk is extensively used for colon cleansing, bowel problems and for proper blood circulation. In some cases, Psyllium husk is used in combination with other herbs such as Blackstrap molasses.
How Does it Work?
Psyllium is rich in soluble fiber which helps in proper digestion and avoids cholesterol buildup inside the body.
Psyllium has the following health related herbal benefits:
For the Heart
A study conducted and published by the Mt. Vernon Hospital in USA shows that Psyllium husk helps in treating mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia. Many also claim that Psyllium offers added benefits and is cost effective when it is combined with other drugs or herbs for lowering cholesterol.
Thus, even clinical studies have shown the effectiveness of Psyllium in reducing cardiovascular diseases in humans. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlights that the soluble fiber in Psyllium husk can decrease the risk of coronary heart diseases. A report released by the University of Maryland Medical Center also highlights the effectiveness of Psyllium husk in reducing heart diseases.
The herb works in reducing cholesterol levels as it is rich in soluble fiber. It is claimed that five grams of Psyllium husk when taken three times per day can significantly lower the total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and even triglycerides levels. The effectiveness of Psyllium in reducing blood cholesterol levels has led to an increase in interest in this herb especially as a high fiber breakfast cereal. A research article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also reports that soluble fiber cereals are effective and well-tolerated for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia.
For Digestion & Related Ailments
Apart from preventing cardiovascular diseases, it is also found that Psyllium can help in treating mild to moderate cases of diarrhea. This is because, the herb shows a high water absorbency effect and makes the stool firmer during a bout of diarrhea. In short, when the husk comes in contact with water it swells and forms a thick mass inside the digestive tract.
This thick mass of soluble fiber helps in regular contraction of the intestinal wall and helps in the overall digestion process. The above feature of Psyllium also makes it a suitable remedy for treating gastro-intestinal problems, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome including Inflammatory Bowel Disease. A study published in the Journal of Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics shows the effectiveness of Psyllium husk in treating chronic constipation.
Against Colon Cancer
A study published in the Journal of Cancer Letters shows that when cancer infected rats were fed with a diet rich in wheat bran and Psyllium, there was a significant reduction in the number of colon tumors.
Thus, the study suggests that a diet rich in such soluble fiber can also benefit humans in the treatment against colon cancer. However, some studies have also claimed that there is no direct relationship between reduction in colorectal cancer growth and a soluble fiber diet.
Against Diabetes Type II
In a study published in the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, it was shown that Psyllium can reduce Diabetes Type II by working on the blood lipid and glucose levels. As per the study, when Diabetes Type II patients were given five grams of Psyllium husk three times per day for a period of 2 weeks, there was a significant reduction in the fasting plasma glucose and triglycerides levels. Today, it is generally known that a diet rich in fiber helps in lowering insulin and blood sugar levels in patients suffering from diabetes.
As mentioned above, Psyllium husk helps in the digestive process and produces softer stool. Softer stool in turn reduces the pain in the anal cavity in patients suffering from hemorrhoids.
Apart from the above benefits, Psyllium husk may also help in reducing high blood pressure and weight gain.
Psyllium supplementations are available in the market and usually come with package instructions about the right dosage level. A single capsule of Psyllium husk usually contains 0.52 gram of the soluble fiber. Also, a single dose of the herb would mean taking five such capsules at a time.
Each dose of Psyllium should be taken along with 8 oz. of water or any other fluid. Psyllium husk should be avoided in children as it may lead to choking. In adults, an effective dosage would be to mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of Psyllium husk with 8 oz of water and to take it immediately. The herb can be taken early morning or at night.
Side Effects, Overdose & Other Considerations
When Psyllium is taken without water or with inadequate amounts of water, it may lead to choking, esophageal obstruction, gastrointestinal tract obstruction and even asphyxiation. This is because Psyllium absorbs water quickly to form a thick mass.
In addition, Psyllium may lead to the following side effects in some – rectal bleeding, gas, bloating, nausea and headache. In others who are prone to allergic reactions, Psyllium may lead to the following side effects – facial swelling, rashes and breathing problems. The herb should be avoided by those suffering from kidney ailments or esophageal disorder. Psyllium should be discontinued after a week of continuous use as it may damage the intestinal walls.
Psyllium is a rich source of soluble dietary fiber and therefore can help in reducing constipation, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. Some studies also show that the husk from this herb helps in reducing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes type II.
In the market the herb is available – as it is, in dried & powdered form, and also in capsules, tablets and wafer forms. It is very important to take as much water or fluid with this herb as possible to prevent the risk of choking. The United States of America is the world’s largest importer of this herb. Some of the popular Psyllium based products include – Metamucil, Bonvit and Fybogel.
Psyllium may interfere with the following drugs – digoxin, anti depressants, blood-thinners and drugs for diabetes, seizures and cholesterol.