Psyllium Husk Benefits

Psyllium husk benefits are multiple and well documented.  It’s the fiber supplement I most often recommend to patients who may benefit from more fiber than they can consume in their diet.   In the office I often am faced with patients who will benefit from a fiber supplement.  Conditions as varied as hemorrhoids and anal fissures, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, constipation and watery diarrhea can benefit from fiber supplement.  In our western diets and in most eastern diets also, we consume far less fiber than is ideal.  As a consequence we often struggle with bowel issues that are nearly unheard of in cultures where refined grain products are not consumed.

There are lots of fiber supplement options on the market, and I have come to the conclusion that psyllium husk benefits of lowering cholesterol tip the scales toward using psyllium rather than one of the other options.  Let’s look at the various fiber supplement options.  Along with any of these a diet high in fruit and vegetables is optimal, and I certainly encourage you to eat five helpings of both a day.  Still, for many people adding a fiber supplement is helpful.

Methylcellulose (brand Citrucel):  This is an option that some patients prefer because it does not form a gel if left to sit a minute or two.  It has less, if any, cholesterol lowering properties, but can be effective at increasing stool volume and texture.

Wheat Dextran (brand Benefiber):  The key advantage is that this is clear in solution and is relatively without taste or texture.  It tends to be considerably more expensive than many other options, and does not lower cholesterol.

Calcium polycarbophil (brand FiberCon and others)  This is almost always consumed as many large tablets or capsules because it is not soluble.   The drawback is the large number of large tablets needed, and it also does not lower cholesterol.

Psyllium husk (brand Metamucil and others) is what I consider the best option for most people.  It is usually consumed as a powder you can mix into water or juice.  The key is to drink it immediately.  If left to sit it forms a gel that is essentially impossible to drink.  I tell patients to mix a heaping, snow-shovel heaping, teaspoon in a small cup of water and to gulp it down.  Then chase it with a large glass of water to dilute it in the stomach.  Done this way it is palatable.  For patients who find psyllium husk mixed with water or juice to have a granular or unpleasant texture I recommend the brand name product available in almost every grocery store and pharmacy labeled the New Smoother Texture Metamucil.  Psyllium husk unlike the others above helps lower cholesterol, helps modulate postprandial glucose if taken with a meal, and may help lower the risk of heart disease.

Psyllium husk benefits digestion by keeping the colon contents moist, malleable, and in this way reduces cramps, pain, and bowel irregularity in irritable bowel syndrome.  It is also helpful in managing chronic constipation, hemorrhoids and anal fissures by leading to soft but formed stool that is easily passed and reduces the need to strain.  In cases of watery diarrhea the psyllium husk benefits by absorbing water and giving more texture to the stool which makes control of the bowels easier.

For those botanists or trivia fans in the crowd Psyllium is the common name for plants in the genus Plantago, and the seeds of this genus have husks with the favorable qualities listed above.  They are grown primarily in India, although research fields have been grown in the US mostly in Arizona and Washington states.

Overall there are enough psyllium husk benefits to make it the fiber supplement of choice for most people who need fiber supplementation.

For More info on this site see the follow up post:  Psyllium Husk

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20 Responses to Psyllium Husk Benefits

  1. Psyllium is available at the bulk food store and is very cheap to buy. I mix it with water and sometimes a sweetener, and have it as a dessert snack. It is filling and keeps my colon clean.

  2. I have hated bran flakes all my life, with or without raisins, so guess what?

    I tried the loose-pack psyllium first. It’s cheaper and I had no problem with swallowing it, but it’s messy and awkward to pack along on travels. The capsules are convenient. Drink plenty of water! (But that’s a good idea anyway.) Is there a difference in brands? I haven’t detected any except price, which varies irrationally. When I placed this order, this was the cheapest per gram price on amazon. Check for yourself; prices rise and fall.

  3. I find mixing psyllium powder with honey and cinnamon and mixing a paste which I then eat is quite palatable.

  4. Hello!

    I am very handsome! That is so, because I scrub raw psyllium husk all over my face. Cool! You should try!

  5. Hi,

    I live in the UK and Psyllium Husk is available in capsule form from health food shops. Just take 2 with 250ml water 30 to 60mins before eating.

  6. hanmeng – have you looked into the Secrets of the Psyllium supplement at Trader Joe’s? Their stuff is reasonably priced and this is pure psyllium husk

    (apologies if this posted twice, was having problems with the page refreshing after hitting submit comment).

  7. My doctor recommended I use a fiber supplement. I want the cheapest without any sweetener. What I find particularly annoying is that doesn’t exist. The cheapest I have been able to find has sucrose, or I can pay a little more for something with artificial sweetener. I don’t have anything against sweets or even refined sugar, but I’d just as soon have them in something tasty instead of this stuff.

  8. I’m a vegetarian and eat whole grain, high-fiber foods and a decent helping of nuts, vegetables and fruit most days. I’ve been taking fiber supplements for a couple of months and really see the difference, though. Bowel movements much more regular, feeling lighter and more energetic – even waking up earlier, not feeling so lethargic. So, while I agree that fiber supplements are no substitute for real fiber in your diet, I believe that a good supplement can make a difference to your health and well being.

  9. Available in crackers but more expensive and tough to eat without a high calorie spread like jelly or cheese that negates some of the benefits.

  10. Other than coming as a powder that you mix into a liquid, are there any other forms that psyllium husks come in? In other words, if you didn’t want to gulp down a tall glass of fiber-saturated water, what is another popular way that people take psyllium husks? Thanks.

  11. Nicely stated as usual Brooke. I agree with everything except maybe the benefiber comment, I have not seem as much documented benefit on cholesterol from guar as from psyllium, but the gist of your post, eat high fiber foods is right on.

  12. It is important that you know you need a diet high in fiber. Fiber fights heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and constipation, among other ills — but how should you go about getting it? Do you change the contents of your shopping cart, sprinkle Metamucil on your cereal, invest in foods with impressive fiber-fortification claims, pop pills or all of the above?

    Well, it’s more complicated than that! As a Registered Dietitian, I want people to choose high-fiber foods, but this is America, where the average person, given the choice, goes for white bread.

    For many years I have recommended and advocated for a diet high in intestine-regulating insoluble fiber found in leafy greens, fruit, nuts and bran cereals and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber found in oat bran, beans and peas.

    Despite the efforts of many caring health professionals, I continue to watch as the the national daily fiber intake has plummeted for the past three decades. Just so you know, adults need between 25 and 38 grams of fiber daily, and most people only get half that. Those who favor a fast food/junk food-only diet may get as little as 5-10 grams of fiber daily.

    Fiber-fortified foods are easy to spot in the grocery store and might have a positive effect on those who can’t — or won’t — reach their recommended daily fiber intake. Companies that make Yoplait, Wonderbread, Susta sweetener, Kashi pizza, Kelloggs, Polaner jams and Quaker oatmeal pancake mix, among others, have all jumped on the high-fiber bandwagon!

    The ‘high-fiber’ claim is getting some lift from all of the interest in whole grains as food makers attempt to promote their products as being more natural and less processed. Fiber is also getting some help from growing interest in weight maintenance solutions; including products that are high in protein and fiber (to help with feeling fuller longer).

    However, fiber-fortified foods bring up their own issues. What I see as a nutritionist is people who see a chocolate bar that says it has one-third of your daily fiber and then eat three!

    However you try to correct it, a significant lack of fiber points to a generally deprived diet.

    Fiber supplements, available in tablet and chew form, can also be found in the pharmacy or grocery store and are usually marketed as colon or digestive system cleansers. Flaxseed oil usually sits on a nearby shelf, along with all manner of fiber-rich powders.

    While it’s wise to be skeptical, these products can be effective in their specific, limited roles as guardians of digestive health. They often efficiently treat constipation and diarrhea and can have some additional overall benefits.

    Metamucil, for example, is a bulk laxative, the main ingredient of which is psyllium husk, a high-fiber plant derivative. Psyllium husk has been found to effectively relieve constipation, and a small amount of research has shown that psyllium husk may lower cholesterol and control diabetes.

    Benefiber pills and powders are made primarily from guar gum, a fiber gleaned from the seed of the guar plant that acts as a laxative. Studies have shown that guar gum may also help lower cholesterol and blood sugar, which can be helpful to diabetic patients.

    Other fiber-rich ingredients commonly found in supplements and fiber-fortified foods include oat bran powder, wheat bran powder, flaxseed oil, acacia powder, stevia leaf extract and larch fiber.

    The epidemiological data available on fiber is strong BUT it’s still just one thing in a food. Fiber supplements also often promise major results unsupported by serious research. Packages may prematurely claim that the supplements ward off cancer or cure intestinal diseases.

    I always say that any one item that makes big promises is probably the one item you don’t want to spend your money on! And while fiber supplements and fortified foods may offer some nice benefits, they’re no quick fix.

    If you don’t EAT enough fiber, supplements are better than nothing — but sprinkling some flax oil on your cereal doesn’t make up for the daily trip to the fast food counter. I like to advocate a two-pronged approach to getting your daily dose of fiber; supplements and fortified foods lack the multifaceted benefits of whole foods; whereas with real food, you get the dual benefit of both soluble and insoluble fiber, plus all the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. It’s more of a team approach.

    Whereas a fiber tablet may have five grams of fiber, a cup of fresh raspberries has eight grams — almost a third of your daily requirement — as well as antioxidants and loads of vitamins C and A, among other nutrients. Simply put, naturally high-fiber food gives you more bang for your nutritional buck.

    In the end, if fiber supplements must be taken when suggested by your doctor, supplements are best used as a complement to a good diet. If you want to invest in a bottle of fiber pills or a tub of fiber-fortified yogurt, be sure to read the back label, not just the marketing claims splashed across the front. Some fiber supplements and fiber-fortified foods have as little as one gram per serving, making them a waste of money. If you’re convinced you need that extra fiber kick, find products that offer about five grams per pill or per serving but don’t let that shift the focus away from improving your diet.

    Practice Progress not Perfection!
    Brooke Douglas, RD, CD

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