Psyllium husk comes from the Plantago ovata plant, which is home to nearly 15,000 tiny seeds.1 This plant is commonly found in India, although it is also grown in many other countries around the world.2It's been hailed as a fiber source that may aid people dealing with multiple health problems. This page will help you learn about psyllium husk's uses and benefits, and how much of it you should be taking.
What Is Psyllium Husk?
Psyllium husk, a soluble fiber sometimes called ispaghula,3 is typically used as a bulk-forming laxative.4 It tends to absorb water and once it does, it swells and develops into a gelatin-like mass that may assist with moving waste through your intestinal tract,5 provide water to stools and promote smoother bowel movements.6
Whole psyllium husk is available as a powder or as a wafer, although you can also find capsules, granules and even liquids containing it.7 However, I encourage you to purchase organic psyllium husk only, as most psyllium crops are sprayed with harmful pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
By purchasing organic psyllium husk, you can ensure that there's a lower risk of these substances entering the body and causing further harm. Organic psyllium husk may also be a better option compared to fiber supplements,8 some of which tend to utilize synthetic or semi-synthetic ingredients, such as methylcellulose9 and calcium polycarbophil.10
Health Benefits of Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk's health benefits can be attributed to its dietary fiber content.11 As a soluble fiber, psyllium husk acts as a prebiotic12 that facilitates the nourishment of beneficial bacteria in your gut and helps improve immune function.13
People with Type 2 diabetes and those who are at risk of getting this disease may benefit from psyllium husk because of its potential to improve glycemic control.14 Studies suggest that it can assist with decreasing glycemic responses to meals15 and lowering insulin and blood sugar levels.16,17
Psyllium husk is also said to help people maintain a healthy weight18,19,20 since it can absorb liquid in the body21 and induce a feeling of satiety.22 These effects may be linked to psyllium husk's tendency to be water-soluble and viscous.23
Some studies also revealed that psyllium husk may be helpful in optimizing cholesterol ratios24,25and in promoting bile acid synthesis.26 This may pave the way for improved heart health, as psyllium husk was also found to be helpful in lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease27 by decreasing blood pressure levels28 and improving good cholesterol levels.29 Lastly, some researchers have discovered that psyllium husk may be beneficial for people with:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — According to this 2017 International Journal of Molecular Medicine study, taking high-fiber supplements like psyllium husk may help address symptoms of IBS.30
- Gallstones — A 1999 study published in the American Journal of Surgery revealed that psyllium husk may reduce risk for gallstone formation by decreasing the body's biliary cholesterol saturation index.31
Uses of Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk has been primarily utilized as a bulk laxative that soaks up water,32 softens hard stool33and enables smoother bowel movements.34 Psyllium husk can also assist in promoting regular bowel movements35 and in counteracting constipation36 and diarrhea.37,38
Ideally, people must strive to get a minimum of 50 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. Organic whole husk psyllium can provide as much as 18 grams of fiber, if taken three times a day, helping raise your overall fiber intake.
Studies on Psyllium Husk
According to some studies, psyllium husk can lead to positive effects when it comes to:
- Metabolic syndrome — In a 2011 British Journal of Nutrition study, researchers discovered that a psyllium supplement combined with fiber-rich foods from a healthy diet assisted in improving some risk factors linked to metabolic syndrome.39
- Triglyceride levels — Results of this 2009 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study suggested that psyllium husk may help lower triglyceride levels among people with Type 2 diabetes.40
- Blood sugar levels — Authors of this 1999 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study involving males with Type 2 diabetes and hypercholesterolemia highlighted that adding psyllium to a traditional diet for people struggling with diabetes is "safe, well-tolerated and improves glycemic and lipid control."41
Since psyllium husk was touted as a notable source of dietary fiber, other studies have proven that this nutrient can assist in reducing the risk for:
- Stroke — According to this study published in the journal Stroke in 2013, a person's stroke risk may be decreased by 7% upon adding 7 grams of fiber to their daily intake.42
- 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.43
- Colorectal cancer — Research has shown that the more dietary fiber you consume, the lower the risk for incident colorectal adenoma and distant colon cancer.44 A 2011 BMJ study also highlighted that your colorectal cancer risk can be reduced by 10% for every 10 grams of fiber added to your diet.45
Does Psyllium Husk Have Side Effects?
While most people who take psyllium husk may tolerate it well,46 there are some who experience minor side effects. For starters, psyllium husk powder can lead to gas or abdominal cramps. There is also a threat of choking linked to psyllium husk powder, and people may experience chest pains, vomiting and swallowing or breathing difficulties.
This is why WebMD advises that psyllium husk powder should be taken alongside a full glass of high-quality filtered water or other liquid so it doesn't amass in the throat and trigger instances of choking.
Serious allergic reactions to psyllium husk are rare. However, if indicators of a serious allergic reaction appear such as rashes, itching or swelling of the face, tongue or throat, severe dizziness, or trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.47
If you belong to any of these groups and plan to take psyllium husk, talk to your doctor so you're properly guided regarding the proper way to take it and know the ideal amount needed for your health status:
- People diagnosed with kidney disease48
- People with a history of appendicitis or exhibit symptoms of this disease
- People with stomach or intestinal blockage
- Pregnant women49
Also, if you fall under these categories you should avoid taking psyllium husk:50
- People who have swallowing difficulties
- People dealing with an esophageal stricture or narrowing of the esophagus) or other gastrointestinal tract obstructions
- People allergic to psyllium husk51
Psyllium Supplements Can Interact With Certain Medicines
As the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center highlights, If you're taking any of these medicines you should avoid using psyllium husk supplements (or even powder), unless your doctor has given you permission to do so:52
- Tricyclic antidepressants — Psyllium husk may reduce your blood levels of these drugs, and the effectivity of antidepressants such as amitriptyline, doxepin and imipramine. Carbamazepine, an antidepressant often used to address seizures, may not be as effective and absorbed well by the body when taken alongside psyllium husk.
- Cholesterol-lowering medications (bile acid sequestrants) — If you're taking cholestyramine or colestipol and plan to take psyllium husk, be aware that combining any of these two drugs with psyllium husk may cause your cholesterol levels to decrease even more. It was also reported that psyllium husk may reduce the side effects of colestipol.
- Diabetes medications — Your risk for hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels may increase if you take psyllium husk supplements with these drugs. Consult your doctor before increasing your intake of psyllium husk, because there may be corresponding adjustments needed if you plan to take it alongside your diabetic medications.
- Digoxin — Taking psyllium husk alongside digoxin, a heart function-regulating medicine, can cause your body to absorb smaller amounts of this drug.
- Lithium — If you really need to take lithium and psyllium husk, make sure there's a one- to two-hour interval between dosages, and ensure your doctor is able to measure your lithium levels from time to time. This is due to the potential of psyllium husk to decrease both the amount of lithium in your blood and the drug's effectiveness.
Here Are Possible Alternatives to Psyllium Husk Powder
Always be careful of the type of psyllium husk that you buy, since there are products that might look harmless and effective, but can cause health risks. If you don't have access to any variation of psyllium husk, Healthy Eating SF Gate notes that these substitutes can be helpful:53
- Flaxseed — Just like psyllium husk, flaxseed may help address constipation54 because it may work as a laxative.55
- Glucomannan (in small amounts) — Glucomannan is a type of water-soluble dietary fiber56 that functions as a natural thickening agent57 and may aid with weight control, promote satiety and stimulate weight loss.58 It's derived from the root of the konjac plant,59 which is also called konnyaku or devil's tongue.60
- Inulin — This soluble fiber61 can be found in chicory, onions, garlic, leeks and asparagus,62 and can help nourish the beneficial bacteria residing in your gut.63
Aside from these substitutes for psyllium husk powder, I also recommend naturally increasing your fiber intake through your diet. Monash University highlights some of the best prebiotic-rich (and ultimately, fiber-rich) foods you can consume:64
- Spring onions
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Fennel bulb
- 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. Taking organic psyllium husk is one of the most crucial ways to raise your dietary fiber intake, probably even more so than other foods. The studies mentioned above have also verified that psyllium husk does exert some positive effects toward certain conditions.
Just remember that 100% organic psyllium husk is the most ideal type of psyllium husk to 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 India66 and produces nearly 15,000 tiny seeds.67
Q: What is psyllium husk good for?
A: Psyllium husk is a good source of dietary fiber68 and can be beneficial for improving overall health and body function because it may:
• Act as a prebiotic that nourishes beneficial bacteria69,70
• Help lower risk for health problems like colorectal cancer,71 gallstones72 and even stroke73
• Address symptoms linked to irritable bowel syndrome74
• Promote healthy glycemic control among people with diabetes75,76,77,78
• Help with weight maintenance79 and weight loss80,81
• Aid with optimizing cholesterol ratios82,83 and promoting better heart health84,85,86
Q: Is psyllium husk gluten free?
A: According to authors of this 2017 article published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, psyllium husk is gluten-free and may be helpful for people with celiac disease who want to increase their fiber intake.87
Q: What are the uses of psyllium husk?
A: Psyllium husk acts as a laxative88 that softens stool and helps promote more regular bowel movements.89 It may be used to help address constipation,90 diarrhea91 and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).92 It also helps lower the risk of developing gallstones.93
Q: How can you take psyllium husk?
A: Psyllium husk powder should be taken with a full glass of high-quality filtered water to prevent choking.94
Q: When is it best to take psyllium husk?
A: I recommend taking psyllium before or during mealtimes, along with liquids such as water.