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What is Psyllium? Benefits, Uses and Possible Side Effects

The psyllium is also known by the name “ispaghula”. It is a food supplement – specifically, a type of soluble fiber – that is obtained from the shells of the seeds of the Plantago ovata plant, native to India and Iran. It is usually used to combat constipation.

As with other soluble fibers, this supplement absorbs water in the intestine and becomes a viscous material that facilitates the passage of stool for later elimination. It also helps control diarrhea, cholesterol, blood pressure and body weight. Do you want to know more about its benefits? We detail them below.

Uses and Benefits of Psyllium

First of all, it is important to mention that psyllium contains an active principle called “metamucil”, which is responsible for much of its benefits. A publication published in Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research details that its consumption causes a slight laxative effect that helps fight constipation.

Added to this, it is attributed lipid-lowering, antidiabetic and antihypertensive properties. For this reason, it has become one of the most demanded supplements on the market. Right now, it is available in capsule, granule, powder and liquid form. What does science say?

1. Psyllium against constipation

Increasing your fiber intake is one of the keys to overcoming constipation. Because of this, psyllium is considered a good supplement against this digestive disorder. Specifically, after being consumed, it absorbs water in the intestines and forms a gel-like substance that facilitates the expulsion of feces.

On this, an investigation in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics determined that the consumption of 5.1 grams of psyllium, 2 times a day for 2 weeks, helped to increase the water content and the weight of the stool. In turn, this led to an increase in total bowel movements.

2. Digestive diseases

The digestive properties of this type of fiber are not limited only to those associated with constipation. The evidence also states that contributes to the treatment and prevention of diseases such as diverticulosis, the irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

Even, as stated in the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC), psyllium absorbs up to 40 times its own weight in water, which is beneficial in stopping diarrhea. These effects are also explained by its ability to regulate the intestinal microbiota, since it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria that colonize the intestine.

3. Cardiovascular health

Regular consumption of dietary fiber is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disorders. This nutrient participates in the control of high cholesterol levels, a risk factor for vascular and heart diseases.

In this regard, a study shared in PLoS One determined that dietary supplementation with 6 grams of psyllium per day, for 6 weeks, is useful to improve the lipid profile. Likewise, research in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that this fiber not only lowers bad cholesterol (LDL), but also increases levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Other interesting effects are related to blood pressure control. Through a meta-analysis shared in The Korean Journal of Internal Medicine, the use of psyllium supplements was found to help reduce hypertension.

4. Diabetes

This fiber supplement helps regulate high glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. In a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that taking psyllium before meals helped control fasting blood glucose and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C).

Other studies in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine and Phytotherapy Research support these effects. In particular, they detail that it stabilizes blood glucose, since it slows down the process of digestion of food and optimizes its use as a source of energy.

5. Weight loss

It should be clear that psyllium supplements do not help you lose weight in a miraculous way. Achieving a healthy and stable weight depends on many other factors, such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Even so, this food supplement can contribute to the loss of kilos.

As a review in Obesity Reviews details, psyllium consumption is associated with decreased appetite and positive effects on body composition and weight.

Other research in the British Journal of Nutrition had similar conclusions. In this study, it was found that the addition of psyllium supplements in the diet contributes to a significant reduction in weight, body mass index and percentage of body fat.

Possible side effects of psyllium

To date, no serious side effects have been reported from psyllium consumption. Most people seem to tolerate it well in doses of 5-10 grams, 3 times a day. However, some may experience digestive discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or bloating.

Anyway, for safety, its consumption is not recommended in people with intestinal obstructions, swallowing problems or disorders that cause narrowing of the digestive tract. Nor should it be ingested simultaneously with medications, as it can interfere with their absorption or effect.

In a case report shared in the Revista Alergia México, psyllium was associated with a secondary anaphylaxis reaction in a patient with a previous diagnosis of drug allergy and allergic rhinitis. Therefore, it is feared that in rare cases it can cause skin rashes, itching and difficulty breathing. If so, you must consult the doctor urgently.

Consumption recommendations

In general, it is recommended to take 5 to 10 grams of psyllium with meals (3 times a day). However, this may vary depending on the manufacturer of the supplement. Therefore, it is convenient to read the label and follow the recommendations.

In any case, keep in mind that more fiber does not mean more benefits. A large consumption of this nutrient can be counterproductive. The ideal is to accompany your intake with water so as not to suffer later discomfort.

What is there to remember about psyllium?

To date, scientific studies on psyllium support its laxative and digestive effects. There have even been positive findings regarding its ability to regulate high cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose and excess weight.

Despite this, it is convenient to be clear that it is not a product with miraculous or healing properties. In fact, it is not a first-line constipation treatment, but a dietary supplement. The ideal in case of illnesses is to consult the doctor first.

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