Why we should learn more about psyllium

Psyllium is a form of fiber found in the outer layer of seeds from the psyllium plant called Plantago ovata, which is grown primarily in India. It has been used as far back as 5,000 years ago as traditional medicine for colon cleansing and constipation. Psyllium, which comes in the form of husk, granules, capsules, or powder, is included in breakfast cereals such as Raisin Bran®, Grape-nuts®, and Fiber One®. It is also the primary ingredient in Metamucil®.

Before it entered the US food market in the early ‘70s, the product was considered a natural, gentle colon cleanser. That’s because when mixed with water, psyllium forms into a gel. As it passes through the intestine, the psyllium retains moisture, increasing volume and softening the stool. The greater amount of stool water makes it easier for the body to move the waste through the digestive track.

Psyllium as a wellness tool for IBS-C

Now there’s a new study that reinforces its use as a wellness tool for constipation and diarrhea. Recently, a group of researchers reviewed a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials on fiber supplements. The study pooled findings from 16 trials of 1,251 participants. Their report shows psyllium is the “most successful” type of fiber to treat chronic constipation. Their article was published in the July 11, 2022 of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition issue.

For people who experience mild-to-moderate IBS-D, psyllium’s ability to soak up the water in the GI tract makes the stool firmer and slows down the gut transit time.

Specifically, the researchers wrote that daily doses of more than 10 grams (about 1/8 of a cup) per day “were most effective in improving responses to treatment, stool output, and straining.” Psyllium also improved the GI track’s gut transit and stool frequency from patients.

Psyllium powder, husks, or flakes can be found at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. In addition, Metamucil® is in most grocery and pharmacy retail stores.

What you should first

Thinking about adding psyllium to the daily diet? Before doing so, it’s important to mention the topic with the physician and nutritionist because this type of fiber may interact with medications, such as:

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil®)

  • Doxepin (Sinequan®)

  • Imipramine (Tofranil®)

  • Carbemazepine (Tegretol®)

  • Colestipol (Colestid®)

Because psyllium may reduce blood sugar levels, it may also increase one’s risk of developing hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. The product also may lower lithium levels in the blood, reducing its effectiveness. As always, talk to your physician to know if psyllium is right for you.