Psyllium

Psyllium is a natural grain that has been widely studied and is used mainly as a source of fiber in dietary supplements. Learn more about this herb and how it can improve overall health.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Psyllium
  • Scientific namePlantago afra
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Main producer(s)India
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal, Food industry, Cattle forage
Psyllium

Psyllium, grown primarily in India and Pakistan, yields an outstanding 60 - 70% soluble fiber, eight times higher than oat bran. Since modern diets are typically low in fiber and high in carbs and saturated fat, adequate fiber supplementation is highly recommended, not only to aid digestion, but also to support cardiovascular health. Psyllium can help with this endeavor.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionCardioprotective, Digestive, Laxative
  • Key constituentsFiber, mucilage
  • Ways to useCapsules, Powder
  • Medicinal rating(4) Very useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Psyllium

Regular, moderated intake of psyllium treats and prevents numerous gastrointestinal complains, including diarrhea and constipation. It also helps the cardiovascular health and it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which recommends a daily intake of 3 - 12 grams in order to decrease the risk of heart disease.

Psyllium is commonly used to promote weight control, as part of a low fat, low cholesterol diet, and also in diverticulosis and diabetes therapies. Studies have shown that its polyphenolic compounds have some antioxidant effects, but further investigation is needed.

Preliminary research has supported the use of psyllium for:

  • Treating constipation. Due to its fiber content, it increases stool weight and promotes bowel movements.
  • Improving cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that psyllium is particularly effective in the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.
  • Lowering blood sugar. People with diabetes have showed significant improvements in their blood sugar levels and insulin concentrations after incorporating psyllium into their diet.
  • Lowering cholesterol. A study concluded that taking psyllium twice daily, along with a diet therapy, reduces LDL-cholesterol concentrations in men and women with primary hypercholesterolemia.
A DAILY INTAKE OF PSYLLIUM CONTRIBUTES TO THE RELIEF OF IBS SYMPTOMS.

How It Works

Chemically considered a polysaccharide, psyllium doesn't get absorbed in the small intestine, passing right through to the large intestine, where it is partially broken down by normal bacterial flora. In that environment, it absorbs the excess of water and increases around 10 times in volume, becoming a mucilaginous gel responsible for bulking the stools and stimulating their elimination.

When it comes to improving cardiovascular health, some studies have shown that psyllium increases bile acid, which may help decrease fat absorption. Psyllium may also transform lipid metabolism by affecting the levels of proteins.

Its mucilaginous gel is believed to influence not only the peristalsis, but also the absorption of nutrients, decreasing the absorption of cholesterol itself. Psyllium usually acts within 12 - 24 hours after intake. In some cases, the maximum effect is reached after two or three days.

How to Consume Psyllium

Main preparations: Food, capsules, macerations, powder

Psyllium can be mixed with water, smoothies, and shakes in its powdered form, and it can be taken as a supplement in capsules. To make the most of its effects, it is recommended that psyllium be taken with every meal.

AS A DIETARY SUPPLEMENT, PSYLLIUM CAN BE FOUND COMBINED WITH OTHER SOURCES OF FIBER.

Psyllium Side Effects

Potential side effects include intestinal bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and mild abdominal cramping. It is recommendable to start with a low dose and increase intake gradually to minimize discomfort. Taking it with an adequate amount of water, milk, fruit juice, or similar liquids will prevent choking or possible damage to the esophagus.

Possible contraindications include:

  • Hypersensitivity to the active substance
  • Patients who experience changes in their bowel habits for more than two weeks
  • Undiagnosed rectal bleeding and failure to defecate following the use of a laxative
  • Patients suffering from abnormal gastrointestinal constrictions, diseases of the esophagus, potential or existing intestinal blockage (ileus), paralysis of the intestine, or megacolon
  • Patients who have difficulty in swallowing or any throat problems

Precautions include:

  • The use of psyllium is not recommended in children of six years old and under.
  • Laxative bulk producers should be used only in cases when dietary changes are unsuccessful and always before using other purgative methods.
  • Psyllium should not be used without medical advice in patients experiencing abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, since these signs can indicate a possible intestinal blockage (ileus).

Culinary Information

The powdered form of psyllium is rich in mucilage, which has thickening properties, so it is commonly used in recipes as an egg substitute, making it a popular choice for vegan, raw, and gluten-free diets. Since it has no taste whatsoever, psyllium is used to thicken sauces and add fiber to baked goods, and it can be sprinkled over salads and soups.

Other Uses

Psyllium has several applications in many areas, including gardening, where it is used to prevent soil erosion. In the pharmaceutical industry, it is utilized as a thickening agent for capsule formulation. In the food industry, it is added as fiber to a variety of products, like health drinks, beverages, ice cream, cakes, jams, instant noodles, and breakfast cereals. Livestock animals are commonly fed with psyllium to aid their digestive system.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Online herb stores

Psyllium is easy to find in virtually every local market as an over-the-counter product, in capsules or powder, alone, or combined with other sources of fiber. It also can be purchased online.

Plant Biology

Classification

Psyllium, or Plantago afra, is a low-growing, herbaceous perennial that belongs to the Plantaginaceae family. Its dark green, egg-shaped leaves form a rosette, and are generally smooth or slightly hairy, with wavy margins and three or more clearly-defined, tough and fibrous parallel veins.

Related Species

There are more than 200 species of Plantago, all of them originally from India and Pakistan, but the plant has also been experimentally planted elsewhere, especially in Arizona.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsSeeds
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLoamy sand
  • Growing habitatArid or desert regions
  • Planting timeEarly spring

Psyllium is an annual herb that grows up to 12 - 18 inches (30 - 46 cm) tall. Leaves are opposite, linear, or linear lanceolate, reaching 0.4 x 7.48 inches (1 x 19 cm). After about 60 days of planting, many small, white flowers bloom. The seeds are enclosed in capsules that open at maturity. In India, psyllium is cultivated from October to March during the dry season, while in France, sowing takes place in March, after the winter.

Growing Guidelines

  • Seeds are sown at a rate of 15 - 30 pounds (7 – 13.5 kg) per hectare, and they are mixed into the uppermost layer of soil using a weed broom and then irrigated.
  • Psyllium needs clear, sunny, and dry weather, as well as light, well-drained, sandy loams.
  • The temperature range that this crop prefers is 59 - 86°F (15 - 30°C).
  • Water requirements are moderate for this crop.
  • Seeds, less than three millimeters in length, are obtained by threshing and winnowing, causing several seeds to be released from each small capsule.

Additional Information

Etymology and Origin

The word plantago, originally from Latin, means "sole of the foot," alluding to the shape of the leaves. Psyllium is a word of Greek origin, meaning "flea" in reference to the color, shape, and size of its seeds. All species of Plantago are indigenous to India and Pakistan, and were first introduced as medicinal plant by the Arabs.

Economic Data

Most of the annual imports to the United States, the number-one consumer of psyllium, come from India, including 800 metric tons of whole seeds and 3,000 tons of husks.

Bibliography

  • MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements, Fiber
  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Effects of psyllium on glucose and serum lipid responses in men with type 2 diabetes and hypercholesterolemia, 1999 | Long-term cholesterol-lowering effects of psyllium as an adjunct to diet therapy in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia, 2000
  • Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, The right fiber for the right disease: an update on the psyllium seed husk and the metabolic syndrome, 2010
  • Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Antioxidant activity and high-performance liquid chromatographic analysis of phenolic compounds during in vitro callus culture of Plantago ovata Forsk. and effect of exogenous additives on accumulation of phenolic compounds, 2016
  • Acta Universitatis Cibiniensis, Industrial Application of Psyllium: an Overview, 2015
  • Utah State University, Broadleaf plantain
  • European Medicines Agency, Community herbal monograph on Plantago afra L. et Plantago indica L. , semen
  • University of California, Meet Psyllium: A Fiber Product with Potential Cardioprotective Effects, 2005