Psyllium Seeds - Benefits for Constipation and Diarrhea
Psyllium seeds are small brownish seeds. They come from the annual plant known as Indian psyllium (Plantago ovata Forsk) or Indian plantain. Indian psyllium belongs to the Plantaginaceae family (plantains). This plantain species can be cultivated worldwide.
Indian psyllium is closely related to broadleaf and narrowleaf plantains. Like these plant species, it also remains very small, reaching a height of 30 to 45 cm 1. The leaves of the plant can also be consumed 2.
However, it is native to the Mediterranean region and West Asia 3. In India, it is primarily cultivated in the main growing region, covering approximately 50,000 hectares of land (=500 sq km) 4. It has been used since ancient times in India as a traditional herbal medicine for ayurvedic and allopathic preparations 5. Today, psyllium seeds are considered important exportable medicinal plants in India 6.
When Psyllium Seeds are used in Medicine / Application
- Fecal incontinence
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis (chronic inflammatory bowel disease)
- Binge eating
- Hyperlipidemia (elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels)
- Diabetes mellitus
They primarily exert their health benefits through their high content of dietary fiber.
Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber
Psyllium seeds are an optimal source of dietary fiber 16. They contain very high amounts of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber that cannot be digested by the human body. Parts of the fiber contained in the seeds and husks can be fermented by Bifidobacteria in the intestines, resulting in protective benefits for the body, especially for the intestines 17 18.
The most important component of psyllium seeds is the fiber called psyllium. Psyllium is a mucilaginous, viscous fiber. It has the ability to attract and bind water, forming a gel layer when the seed coat comes into contact with water. This is because the husk of the psyllium seed is intended to protect the seed from drying out.
The seeds have a ratio of 80 to 20 in favor of insoluble fibers, while the psyllium husks have a ratio of 70 to 30 in favor of soluble fibers 19.
High Content of Healthy Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Flaxseeds contain approximately 15.7g of fat. About 78.2% of the fatty acids in flaxseeds are polyunsaturated fatty acids 23. Saturated fatty acids account for 14.46%, while monounsaturated fatty acids account for 7.34%.
The most dominant fatty acid is linoleic acid with 10g per 100g, a omega-6 fatty acid. Alpha-linolenic acid, a very important omega-3 fatty acid, is included with 1.74g. Linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are essential fatty acids that must be obtained through diet.
Bioactive Plant Compounds
Psyllium seeds also contain bioactive compounds that have health benefits 24. These include flavonoids, alkaloids, polyphenols, and terpenes, all of which belong to the group of secondary plant compounds. A total of 13 different plant compounds have been found in the seeds 25. These generally provide antioxidant effects for human health 26. The contained plant compounds also have anti-cancer activity 27. Additionally, psyllium seeds also contain substances that eliminate reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species are harmful forms of oxygen in the body that can cause damage to DNA, among other things.
In addition, psyllium seeds contain small amounts of saponins. Larger amounts are found in the psyllium husks. Saponins are bitter compounds that are believed to protect the seeds from animal consumption 28. However, they are believed to have benefits on the body. They are attributed with anti-cancer benefits 29.
Psyllium Seeds Against Colorectal Cancer
Part of the psyllium fiber is fermented in the small intestine into butyrates (salts and esters of butyric acid), which play a protective role against colon cancer 31.
Initial studies have shown that consuming psyllium husks can reduce the risk of colon cancer in patients with constipation 32.
Recent studies have shown that consuming psyllium seeds is associated with a reduction in mortality due to colon cancer 33.
In addition, the seeds increase the elimination of bile acids from the stool, reducing the risk of colorectal tumors 34. Bile acids are needed for the breakdown and absorption of fats from the diet.
Psyllium Seeds in Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Numerous scientists have also examined the benefits of psyllium husk in the treatment of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, which were summarized in a study by 35 Psyllium husk was found to be equally effective as mesalazine, an anti-inflammatory agent used in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, as stated in a study 36.
In addition, butyrate also helps in the improvement of ulcerative colitis 37.
Psyllium Seeds for Constipation - Laxatives
The main benefit of psyllium seeds is as a laxative 38 39. The included fibers absorb large amounts of water in the digestive tract, increasing the volume and moisture content of the stool. This improves peristalsis and the mobility of the intestines 40. This effect is primarily due to arabinoxylan, a hemicellulose fiber 41. Psyllium husks, in particular, are rich in arabinoxylan.
In addition, psyllium seeds are gentler as a laxative compared to some other laxatives. The included fibers do not promote the formation of flatulence 42.
Increasing the Feeling of Satiety
Psyllium seeds increase the feeling of satiety, especially when consumed with water 43. In a study, the intake of fat significantly decreased in 17 women who consumed psyllium seeds with water. According to scientists, the seeds could be a useful addition to weight control.
Losing Weight with Psyllium Seeds
Psyllium seeds can also be used for the treatment of obesity. Studies have shown a benefit of the seeds in reducing body weight and body fat percentage in obese individuals 44.
Supplementing with 6 g of psyllium seeds per day for a period of 6 weeks reduced body fat percentage and LDL cholesterol levels in male and adolescent subjects, some of whom are obese 45.
Study results show that psyllium seeds are more effective in lowering cholesterol levels than psyllium husks 46. Consuming psyllium seeds stimulates the production of butyric acid in the intestine. This has an impact on sterol metabolism, resulting in reduced cholesterol levels.
In patients with type 2 diabetes, psyllium fiber from psyllium seeds also reduced total cholesterol levels by 7.7% and LDL cholesterol levels by 9.2% 47. According to scientists, the results demonstrate a benefit in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.
Psyllium Seeds for Diabetes
In patients with diabetes, psyllium seeds showed a hypoglycemic effect (blood sugar-lowering). Psyllium seed fibers improved insulin and glucose levels in patients. 54. According to other researchers, psyllium husk powder is also an effective hypoglycemic agent. 55.
Side effects of Psyllium Seeds?
Studies have shown that overdosing on psyllium seeds does not have hepatotoxic and neurotoxic effects. 56.
However, in rare cases, consuming psyllium seeds can lead to an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) 57 58 59. There can also be allergies to psyllium due to occupational exposure. Studies have shown that caregivers in elderly care can react sensitively and experience allergic reactions 60. Rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal mucosa) and asthma can be the result, for example.
Psyllium seeds should primarily be used as a fiber-rich food when enriching the diet with fiber. They are best suited when added to cereals. Additionally, they can also be used as an ingredient in smoothies. It should be noted that psyllium seeds have a thickening effect.