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Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements

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Psyllium

What is psyllium? Why do we need it?

Psyllium (also known as psyllium seed) is a soluble fiber. It comes from a shrublike herb called the plantain (no relation to the plant that produces edible plantains). Its ingredients include alkaloids, amino acids, oils, protein, tannins, flavonoids, and a variety of sugars and carbohydrates.

Psyllium seeds are oval-shaped, odorless, practically tasteless, and are coated with mucilage. Unlike wheat bran and other fibers, psyllium does not cause excessive gas and bloating.

Used as a dietary fiber, psyllium makes stools softer, which helps relieve constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids and other intestinal disorders. It is considered a good intestinal cleanser in that it speeds waste matter through the digestive system, shortening the amount of time toxic substances stay in the body and thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer and other diseases.

Soluble fibers such as psyllium can also help prevent the intestine from absorbing cholesterol. Studies have found that adding psyllium to one’s diet can reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood; when taken in conjunction with certain medications, it can reduce blood cholesterol levels even further.

How much psyllium should I take?

There is no recommended daily allowance, but many herbalists and health professionals taking between _ to two teaspoons of psyllium one or two times a day. The best times to take it are early in the morning and just before going to bed.

What are some good sources of psyllium?

Psyllium seed or husk are the two dietary sources of psyllium fiber.

What can happen if we don't get enough psyllium?

There are no studies that have documented the effects of psyllium deficiency.

What can happen if I take too much? Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?

Do not take psyllium at the same time (or within an hour of the time) you take other medications: it can interfere with the way drugs are absorbed and make some medications less effective. Always take psyllium with a full eight-ounce glass of water, and make sure to drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day.

Another fiber supplement, guar, works the same way psyllium does. If you are already taking guar, do not take psyllium (and vice-versa). Do not give psyllium to a child.

For more information on psyllium, please consult your health care provider.

References

  • Alabaster O, Tang ZC, Frost A, Sivapurkar N. Potential synergism between wheat brain and psyllium: enhanced inhibition of colon cancer. Cancer Lett 1993;75:53—58.
  • Ashraf W, Park F, Lof J, Quigley EM. Effects of psyllium therapy on stool characteristics, colon transit and anorectal function in chronic idiopathic constipation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 1995;9:639—647.
  • Balch J, Balch P. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 2nd ed. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group, 1997.
  • Kirschmann G, Kirschman J. Nutrition Almanac, 4th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1996.
  • McRorie JW, Daggy BP, Morel JG, Diersing PS, Miner PB, Robinson M. Psyllium is superior to docusate sodium for treatment of chronic constipation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 1998;12:491—497.

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