Psyllium is a type of fiber commonly used as a gentle, bulk-forming laxative.
Being a soluble fiber, psyllium is able to pass through your digestive system without being completely broken down or absorbed.
This article tells you all you need to know about psyllium, including 7 ways it can benefit your health.
What Is Psyllium?
Psyllium is a soluble fiber derived from the seeds of Plantago ovata, an herb mainly grown in India (1).
It's used as a dietary supplement and is usually found in the form of husk, granules, capsules or powder. However, it can also be obtained through fortified breakfast cereals and baked goods (2).
Psyllium husk is the main active ingredient in Metamucil, a fiber supplement often used to reduce constipation.
Because of its excellent water solubility, psyllium can absorb water and become a thick, viscous compound that resists digestion in the small intestine.
Moreover, unlike some other potent sources of fiber, psyllium is well tolerated (4).
Bottom Line: Psyllium is a fiber extracted from an herb called Plantago ovata. It can be found in various forms and has many health benefits.
1. Psyllium Relieves Constipation
Initially, it works by binding to partially digested food that's passing from the stomach into the small intestine.
One study found that psyllium had a greater effect than wheat bran on the moisture, total weight and texture of stools (9).
Another study showed that taking 5.1 grams twice a day for two weeks significantly increased the water content and weight of stools, as well as the total number of bowel movements, in 170 individuals with chronic constipation (10).
For these reasons, taking psyllium supplements promotes regularity.
Bottom Line: Psyllium is known as a bulk-forming laxative that helps relieve constipation and promote regularity.
2. It May Help Treat Diarrhea
It does this by acting as a water-absorbing agent, which can increase stool thickness and slow down its passage through the colon.
Another study treated eight people who had lactulose-induced diarrhea with 3.5 grams, three times daily. Doing so increased their stomach emptying time from 69 to 87 minutes, which meant fewer bowel movements (15).
So psyllium can both prevent constipation and reduce diarrhea, effectively helping to normalize your bowel movements if you are having problems.
Bottom Line: Psyllium can help treat diarrhea by increasing stool size and slowing its passage through the intestinal tract.
3. It Can Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Fiber supplementation has been shown to control glycemic response to a meal and reduce insulin and blood sugar levels. This is particularly the case with water-soluble fibers like psyllium (16, 17, 18, 19, 20).
One study treated 56 diabetic men with 5.1 grams of psyllium twice per day for eight weeks. It reduced their daily blood sugar levels by 11% (23).
In another study in people with type 2 diabetes, a higher daily dose (five grams consumed three times per day) for six weeks resulted in a 29% reduction in blood sugar levels within the first two weeks (19).
Because psyllium is able to slow down the digestion of food, it's recommended to take it with food, rather than on its own, so it has a greater effect on your blood sugar levels (22).
Bottom Line: Psyllium is able to delay food digestion, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. A daily dose of 10.2 grams ingested with meals appears to significantly affect blood sugar levels.
4. It May Boost Satiety and Aid Weight Loss
Scales, a Fork, a Knife and a Measuring Tape
One study had 12 healthy participants consume 10.8 grams of psyllium immediately before a meal.
They experienced significantly delayed stomach emptying from the third hour after the meal and prolonged sensations of satiety six hours after the meal (29).
Another study explored the effects of two, 20-gram doses in 17 healthy participants. One dose was consumed three hours before a meal, while the other dose was consumed immediately before a meal.
However, studies investigating a direct relationship between psyllium and weight loss seem to show mixed results.
One study found that 16 weeks of a calorie-restricted diet paired with three grams of psyllium either twice or three times daily resulted in an average weight loss of 9.9 pounds (4.52 kg) and 10.12 pounds (4.60 kg), respectively (31).
Furthermore, another study showed that psyllium supplementation on its own, as well as paired with a fiber-rich diet, resulted in a significant reduction of weight, body mass index and percentage of body fat (32).
Bottom Line: Psyllium aids appetite control by slowing down stomach emptying and reducing appetite. Decreased appetite and calorie intake may support weight loss.
5. It Can Also Lower Cholesterol Levels
Psyllium is able to bind to fat and bile acids, which promotes their excretion from your body.
In the process of replacing these lost bile acids, the liver uses cholesterol to produce more. As a result, blood cholesterol levels decrease (34).
One study reported an increase in bile acid synthesis and lowered LDL ("bad") cholesterol in 20 individuals treated with 15 grams of psyllium daily for 40 days (34).
In another study, 47 healthy participants experienced a 6% reduction in LDL cholesterol after taking 6 grams each day for six weeks (33).
For instance, taking 5.1 grams twice a day for eight weeks resulted in a decrease in total and LDL cholesterol, as well as an increase in HDL levels in 49 patients with type 2 diabetes (18).
Lastly, one study treated 125 type 2 diabetics with 5-gram doses of psyllium three times a day for six weeks. Participants experienced increases in HDL cholesterol up to 45.7% (19).
Interestingly, a review of 21 studies reported that reductions in total and LDL cholesterol are dose dependent. This means greater results were observed with treatments of 20.4 grams of psyllium per day than 3 grams per day (35).
Bottom Line: Psyllium can lower total cholesterol levels by promoting the removal of bile acids from the body. It has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol significantly.
6. It Seems to Be Good for Your Heart
One study confirmed that 5 grams of psyllium three times daily for six weeks reduced triglycerides by 26%, compared to the placebo (19).
Moreover, in 40 patients with type 2 diabetes, triglyceride levels were significantly reduced after two months of treatment with psyllium fiber (36).
Lastly, another study in obese individuals showed that a 7-gram daily dose for 12 weeks led to a seven percent decrease in blood pressure in the first six weeks of treatment (39).
Bottom Line: Regular intake of psyllium fiber has been linked to reduced blood pressure, lowered triglycerides levels and reduced risk of heart disease.
7. It Has Prebiotic Effects
Although psyllium is somewhat resistant to fermentation, a small portion of psyllium fibers can be fermented by intestinal bacteria. This fermentation can produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which have been linked to health benefits (3, 42, 43, 44).
One study showed that 10 grams twice a day for 12 months increased the production of the SCFA butyrate (45).
Also, because it ferments more slowly than other fibers, it doesn't increase gas and digestive discomfort.
In fact, treatment with psyllium for four months helped reduce digestive symptoms by 69% in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) (46).
Bottom Line: Psyllium is considered a prebiotic fiber. It can promote short-chain fatty acid production and decrease digestive discomfort in patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
Safety and Side Effects
Open Green Bottle Filled with Capsules
Psyllium appears to be well tolerated by most people.
Also, psyllium could delay the absorption of certain medications. Therefore, it's not recommended to take it with any other medicines.
Bottom Line: Psyllium does not seem to have many side effects and is well tolerated. However, some allergic reactions may occur in those sensitive to fiber.
Dosage and How to Take
Psyllium can be consumed in doses of 5-10 grams with meals, at lease once per day.
However, when it comes to fiber, more is not always better. The benefits seen in most studies are linked with intakes of 3-20.4 grams per day, and taking more may cause digestive problems (35).
It is important to take it with water and then drink water regularly throughout the day.
As a bulk laxative supplement, 5 grams with a glass of water three times per day is often recommended as a starting point. This can be gradually increased, as tolerated.
It depends on the product how many grams are contained in a teaspoon or tablespoon, but a tablespoon is often recommended as a serving for psyllium husk.
It is best if you follow the dosage instructions on the packaging.
Bottom Line: It is recommended to start psyllium supplementation with 5-gram doses three times a day. Make sure to follow the dosage instructions.
Take Home Message
Psyllium is commonly used as a laxative. However, it can also relieve diarrhea and help reduce triglycerides, cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
This fiber supplement can be included in your nutrition regimen and consumed regularly as part of a healthy diet.
Written by Arlene Semeco, MS, RD