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author: Dr. Kevin Curran
Background on psyllium husks
Psyllium husks are the dry outer covering of seeds from the Blond Psyllium plant (Plantago ovata). Psyllium is native to Southern Asia and grows naturally in sandy and silty soils. Currently, 85% of the world supply of psyllium is grown in India, while the United States is the largest importer. The husk, or seed covering material, is separated from the plant, dried, chopped up, packaged into capsules and sold as a source of soluble dietary fiber.
Like all fiber, psyllium husk fiber is indigestible but by passing through our digestive system, this fiber helps us in regards to cholesterol, digestion and possibly diabetes.
In this article, we review the biology behind psyllium husk benefits. At the end of the page, we discuss factors involved when choosing a psyllium supplement.
Seed husks from Plantago ovata are the source of psyllium husk fiber.
Psyllium husk fiber
Psyllium husk is used as an easy way to add soluble fiber to your diet. By consuming proper levels of soluble fiber you help maintain the regular transit of food through your digestive system. The Institute of Medicine recommends men eat 30-38 grams of fiber per day and women consume 21-25 grams (U.S.NIH). Beans, fruit, oats and barley all offer good amounts of fiber. But, from my experience, it’s quite a challenge to get 30 grams of fiber a day solely from these sources. To reach the recommended daily intake, its helpful to combine your natural diet with a soluble fiber supplement like psyllium husk fiber.
Psyllium husks, like other forms of soluble fiber, soak up water in your gut, which makes your stool softer and easier to pass. In this regard, psyllium helps people dealing with constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids or diarrhea (Jenkins, 2002).
Additionally, unlike beans, you can get your daily fiber from psyllium without the unpleasant side effect of flatulence.
Psyllium husk for cholesterol
Eating fiber is also an excellent way to manage cholesterol levels (Pereira, 2004). Soluble fiber has demonstrated the ability to lower LDL, an abbreviation for low density lipoproteins (Brown, 1999; Pereira, 2000). In the world of cholesterol, LDL is the bad cholesterol; it’s the one you do not want. LDL can collect along blood vessel walls, cause artery blockage and ultimately put you at greater risk of a heart attack.
Research has shown that taking psyllium husk daily can reduce LDL cholesterol levels (Brown, 1999; Anderson, 2000; Olson, 1997). One particular report shows that consuming 10 grams of psyllium daily can reduce LDL levels by 7%, without changing HDL levels (Anderson, 2000). Furthermore, if you combine psyllium with your prescribed cholesterol medication, such as a statin, you may find you can lower your statin dosage and still experience the same LDL reduction (Moreyra, 2005).
Psyllium husk benefits for diabetes
Diabetes is a global epidemic…and it’s getting worse. As of 2015, 415 million people suffer from diabetes. This staggering number represents 8.3% of the adult population of the world. By 2035, its predicted that just under 10% of the world population will suffer from diabetes. It should be noted that Type 2 diabetes accounts for approximately 90% of current cases. Type 2 involves the failure of insulin to properly regulate sugar in our blood. The primary cause of Type 2 diabetes is insufficient exercise and obesity.
A recent report (Gibb, 2015) suggests that eating psyllium husk fiber helps control our blood sugar levels. Gibb et al. performed an analysis of 35 controlled, clinical studies. The authors conclude that psyllium husks helps manage glycemic control (blood sugar levels) in a manner that is commensurate with loss of glycemic control. This means that the greatest benefit was seen in people that were either suffering from Type 2 diabetes, or were in a ‘pre-diabetes’ state. In the future, it will be interesting to see if psyllium husk fiber is recommended for diabetes prevention. If you are suffering from diabetes and are currently on diabetes medication, make sure to consult your physician before taking psyllium husks.
Factors to consider when choosing a psyllium husk supplement
Your brand of psyllium should list their main ingredient as Plantago ovato and provide an amount (mg.) per capsule. We prefer companies with manufacturing locations in the U.S., as we’re more familiar with the U.S. current good manufacturing processes (cGMP).
Psyllium husk dosage
Recommended daily dosage will vary based on age, gender and diet. In general, to achieve the full benefits of soluble fiber, an adult should combine a healthy diet with approximately 6-7 grams of psyllium husk. Most psyllium capsules are in the 1 gram amount, therefore a reasonable intake would be 3 capsules twice daily. Consult with your physician for more insight towards dosage.
Important psyllium husk side effect: Take psyllium capsules with at least 1 full glass of water (8 oz.). Without sufficient water, the fiber may swell in the throat and cause problems. Also avoid psyllium capsules if you’ve ever had esophageal narrowing issues or an allergic response to psyllium.
Please remember to bookmark this page! We will continue to update this page as new heath reports and clinical data is published concerning the benefits of psyllium supplements.
Anderson JW, Allgood LD; Lawrence A. et al. “Cholesterol-lowering effects of psyllium intake adjunctive to diet therapy in men and women with hypercholesterolemia: meta-analysis of 8 controlled trials”. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71472- 479.
Brown L; Rosner B; Willett W; Sacks F. “Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis”. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 6930- 42.
Gibb, Roger D., et al. “Psyllium husks fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 102.6 (2015): 1604-1614.
Jenkins DJA, Kendall CWC, Vuksan V. et al. “Soluble fiber intake at a dose approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for a claim of health benefits: serum lipid risk factors for cardiovascular disease assessed in a randomized controlled crossover trial”. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002; 75834- 839.
Moreyra, A, Wilson, AC. et al. “Effect of combining psyllium husk dosage fiber with simvastatin in lowering cholesterol”. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2004; 165(10):1161-1166.
Olsen BH, Anderson SM, Becker MP. et al. “Psyllium husk fiber enriched cereals lower blood total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, but not HDL cholesterol. Psyllium husk benefits in hypercholesterolemic adults: results from a meta-analysis”. J Nutr. 1997;1271973- 1980.
Pereira MA, Pins JJ. “Dietary fiber and cardiovascular disease: experimental and epidemiologic advances”. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2000;2494- 502.
Pereira MA, O’Reilly E. et al. “Dietary Fiber and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Pooled Analysis of Cohort Studies”. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2004;164(4):370-376.