Psyllium Husk - Benefits Against Constipation And Diarrhea
Psyllium husk comes from the plant "Indian psyllium" (Plantago ovata). The white psyllium husks surround the psyllium seeds with their membranous structure. When the seeds are ground, they are separated from the psyllium seeds. The weight ratio of psyllium husk to psyllium seed is approximately 25 to 30%.1 2.
India is the largest producer of psyllium husk. 75% of the produced husks are exported from the Gujarat province.3. Psyllium husk is gluten-free.
Health Benefits - Applications
They also achieve additional medical effects in the therapy of diabetes, cancer, obesity, high cholesterol, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis 6. Furthermore, they may also be helpful for hemorrhoids 7. The therapy should last at least one month.
Their benefits on health are primarily due to their high content of water-soluble fibers.
Dietary fiber is plant material that the human body cannot digest and absorb. Generally, dietary fiber is divided into two groups: soluble and insoluble fiber. In the case of psyllium husk, soluble fiber accounts for about 70% of the fiber content 8.
The main component is psyllium, also described as a viscous fiber. Psyllium consists of xylan, arabinose, rhamnose, galactose, and galacturonic acid 9.
Psyllium has the ability to attract and bind water, resulting in the formation of a gel layer when the seed husk comes into contact with water. This is due primarily to arabinoxylan (composed of xylan and arabinose) 10.
Benefits as a Laxative for Constipation
The fibers increase the volume of the stool by attracting and absorbing water. Psyllium husks consist of mucus-forming cells 14. When the psyllium husks come into contact with water, they swell. A gel-like mass forms, which helps in the transportation of the stool through the intestine 15. This stimulates peristalsis, the wave-like muscular movements in the intestine 16.
Study results with 69 healthy volunteers show that psyllium husks can help with constipation. The use of husks led to a significant increase in the number of bowel movements and a significant decrease in effort during defecation 17.
In patients with constipation, psyllium husk powder resulted in a higher percentage of well-formed stools 18. The stools were also less firm compared to treatment with laxatives.
In another study, 15 g of psyllium husk powder per day increased the viscosity, moisture, and weight of the stool 19. The scientists found that a component of the fiber, unlike other soluble fibers, does not ferment. They identified the gel formed from the non-fermented fibers as a lubricant that contributes to a firmer and moister stool compared to equal amounts of other intestinal regulating fiber sources.
The frequency of bowel movements significantly increased in participants with idiopathic constipation over the eight-week study period 20. The patients received 5 g of psyllium husk powder per day. The participants also reported an improvement in stool consistency and a reduction in pain during defecation. Scientists primarily attribute the benefits in constipation to the facilitation of bowel movements.
In addition, psyllium husk appears to be more effective in increasing stool volume compared to other laxative sources of dietary fiber 21. It is believed that for every gram of psyllium husk consumed, the weight of the stool increases by 5.9 to 6.1 grams 22 23. In comparison, stool mass increased by 4.9 to 5.4 grams with wheat bran and by 3.4 to 4.5 grams with oat bran per gram consumed 24.
Psyllium fiber is partially more effective in its laxative benefit compared to certain other laxatives (such as docusate sodium) 25.
Health Benefits of Secondary Plant Compounds
Psyllium husk contains components of the bitter substance saponin, which are supposed to protect the seeds from being eaten by animals 28. However, saponins are believed to have benefits on health. According to studies, they have anticancer activities and cholesterol-lowering effects 29.
Psyllium Husk against Colorectal Cancer
Psyllium husk powder significantly reduces the levels of bile acids 30. Fecal bile acid is associated with both colorectal cancer and higher serum cholesterol levels. Consuming psyllium husks, on the other hand, leads to a reduction in the risk of colorectal tumors due to the elimination of bile acids from the stool 31. Bile acid is required for the absorption of dietary fats in the digestive tract.
Other studies indicate that psyllium husk can trigger apoptosis (cell self-destruction) in colorectal cancer cells 32. According to scientists, psyllium husk could be supportive in therapy.
Psyllium husk may also reduce the recurrence of colorectal adenomas (benign tumors) 33. Benefits were particularly observed in patients with high calcium intake.
Treating Diarrhea with Psyllium Husk
Healthy psyllium husks not only help with constipation but can also be helpful for diarrhea. Due to their ability to absorb and retain high amounts of water, the viscosity of the meal increases and the stool volume 34 35 36. They make the stool firmer overall and slow down the transit of the digesta through the intestine during diarrhea. This may also be facilitated by the delayed formation of gas fermentation products 37.
Psyllium Husks Lower Cholesterol Levels
In a study, the cholesterol-lowering benefits of psyllium husk powder were examined in conjunction with dietary counseling in 340 patients with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia 38. Total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels decreased. During an 8-week period, LDL levels decreased by 0.42 mmol/l (8.7%) with 7 g of psyllium husk per day, and during the 12-week treatment phase, with 10.5 g of psyllium husk per day, LDL levels decreased by 0.48 mmol/l (9.7%).
Over a period of six weeks, LDL levels decreased by a total of 10.6 to 13.2%, and total cholesterol levels decreased by 7.7 to 8.9%. Psyllium husk powder was overall very effective compared to the placebo and was well tolerated. In other patients with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia, cholesterol levels also decreased 39. Total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol decreased by 8.9% and 13.0% with 2x 5.1 g of psyllium husk powder.
In another study, 15g of psyllium husk powder was incorporated into a regular diet over a period of six weeks. The total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol levels decreased. HDL levels remained unchanged. (40)
With a diet low in saturated fatty acids and a supplement of 10.5g of psyllium husk powder per day, benefits on lipid profiles were achieved in men with chronic ischemic heart disease. The husk powder increased levels of healthy HDL cholesterol by 6.7% and reduced the LDL to HDL ratio by up to 14.2%. Additionally, waist circumference was significantly reduced. Compared to insoluble fibers, psyllium husk powder with its soluble fibers yielded better results.
Over a period of eight weeks, the cholesterol levels decreased by 3.3% in 90 subjects who consumed 14g of psyllium husk powder per day and had a diet low in saturated fatty acids. (41) Psyllium husk powder also reduced systolic blood pressure.
Reducing Cardiovascular Diseases
The water-soluble fibers in psyllium husk showed a benefit in reducing indicators that can contribute to cardiovascular diseases. During the study, patients with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia were given either 14 g of psyllium husk or a placebo with the same amount for eight weeks.
This resulted in significant reductions in cholesterol, triglyceride, and insulin levels compared to the placebo 52. The systolic blood pressure also decreased.
In risk groups for metabolic syndrome, 6 grams of psyllium husk fiber per day improved fat distribution and fat profile. 55 56 57. Metabolic syndrome encompasses various risk factors such as obesity, elevated blood sugar levels, and increased waist circumference, which can contribute to cardiovascular diseases.
Psyllium Husk Promotes Healthy Skin
Studies have shown that psyllium husk stimulates the proliferation of normal human epithelial cells, such as skin keratinocytes and fibroblasts 58. Proliferation refers to the growth and multiplication of tissue. Keratinocytes are cells in the outermost layer of the skin that form the main component of the epidermis, a protective layer that is continuously renewed. Fibroblasts are cells found in connective tissue and contribute to the maintenance and regeneration of connective tissue.
Similar results were obtained in another study where ten healthy volunteers were given psyllium husk for breakfast 61. The observed effect was a significant reduction in insulin concentrations (-36.1%). Additionally, glucose levels were also reduced by 11.1%.
Other researchers have examined the safety and effectiveness of psyllium seed husk compared to a placebo in men with type 2 diabetes and mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia 62. Participants took either 5.1 g of psyllium seed husk or the placebo twice daily in addition to breakfast and dinner, as well as 20 to 30 minutes before meals. Participants in the psyllium seed husk group showed improvements in metabolism. Glucose levels were on average 4.2% lower throughout the day, and 6.5% lower after meals. In contrast, with the placebo, glucose levels increased by 6.8% throughout the day and 12.7% immediately after meals. Body weight decreased by 1.8%. However, a trend towards weight loss was not evident. The psyllium seed husk was generally well-tolerated.
The use of psyllium seed husk for diabetics is safe and well-tolerated 65.
Psyllium husks can be helpful for weight loss
A supplementation of psyllium fiber achieved a significant reduction in BMI over a six-month period in overweight individuals 66. The participants consumed 3.5 grams of psyllium powder 20 minutes before meals. Additionally, systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels were reduced.
Are psyllium husks helpful for Parkinson's symptoms?
Administration of psyllium husks resulted in a more even absorption of levodopa (L-Dopa) 67. Levodopa is used in the treatment of Parkinson's symptoms. The husks led to more stable and higher levodopa concentrations in the body, benefiting Parkinson's patients overall.
Psyllium husk powder is generally well tolerated. Therefore, psyllium husk powder is considered to be gentler on the digestive system compared to some other laxatives 68 69. A study examining abdominal gas production found no increase in bloating 70.
A 52-week study examined nutrient changes as well as the biochemical and hematological side effects in 93 healthy participants 71. There were small but notable changes in some mineral and vitamin levels. Some hematological and biochemical parameters changed during the course of the study. However, no changes were clinically significant except for possibly reduced vitamin B12 levels. Overall, a daily dosage of 10.5 grams of psyllium husk powder was well tolerated.
In order for psyllium seed husks to take effect, 5 to 6 g should be consumed twice a day. Children should use a lower amount.
It is advisable to start with a small amount and gradually increase the dosage from day to day, depending on tolerance and effectiveness.
Notes and Usage
Psyllium seed husks should always be taken with water. Without sufficient fluid intake, the throat or esophagus may swell 72. This could lead to choking. Insufficient water intake could also result in digestive issues. Therefore, psyllium seed husks should always be placed in a glass of water, stirred, and then consumed. Psyllium seed husks should never be taken in case of intestinal obstruction or intestinal spasms.
Allergic reactions are also possible - see psyllium seeds.
Psyllium seed husks can be used as a thickening agent. The fibers attract and bind water (hydrophilic) 73. This creates a clear, colorless, slimy gel. As a result, the volume increases accordingly.
They are also used as ingredients in baked goods and in the production of ice cream. 74.
Psyllium husk powder should be stored in a dry place.
By the way, they are also available in ground form.