Psyllium Husks (Plantago ovata), consisting of the ripe seeds or epidermis of Plantago ovata, grow in India, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, northern Africa, Spain, and the Canary Islands.(1) It is cultivated in India and neighboring countries as well as in Brazil and Arizona.(2) Psyllium seed husks are mainly used to help constipation and irritable bowel movement, though recent research suggests it may also have cholesterol-lowering properties.(3)
What it is used for: An herbal mucilage, psyllium husks are used to coat and soothe the digestive tract.(4) Psyllium is a proven bulking agent that swells into a gummy, gelatinous mass when it absorbs fluid in the intestines, thus lubricating the intestinal walls and encouraging peristalsis and defecation.(5) Because psyllium contributes to the softening and forming of stool, it is useful in lessening the itching, bleeding, pain and other symptoms of hemorrhoids, constipation, and other bowel disorders.(6) Psyllium is also used medicinally for diarrhea, acid indigestion, gastric and duodenal ulcers, and urethritis.(7)
Research Highlights: Experts consider psyllium one of the safest laxatives known, in part because it works like many high-fiber foods. Human and animals studies have shown that psyllium is an active laxative with cholesterol lowering, anti-hypertensive and expectorant qualities.(8) Preliminary studies also suggest its role in diabetes management: When it was taken before breakfast and dinner, the typical rise in glucose and insulin concentrations seen in people with non-insulin-dependent diabetes (type 2) was notably reduced in one study involving eighteen subjects.(9) And while no well-designed studies have been conducted to verify it, many herbalists note that psyllium may help reduce the risk of colon cancer indirectly by bulking up the stool and thus allowing toxic chemicals to have less direct contact with the intestinal tissue.(10) Among others, the following conducted studies(11) have been revealed significant findings:
- Daily consumption of 7 grams of psyllium significantly lowered fecal bile acids associated with colorectal cancer
- Psyllium treatment decreased the number of bleeding episodes in 50 hemorrhoid-suffering patients
- In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, serum total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol decreased in patients who had consumed 5.1 grams of psyllium husks twice daily for 26 weeks
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of psyllium husk treatment (3.6 grams/day) of 80 patients with IBS showed a global assessment improvement of 82% in the treatment group
Note: Sufficient water must be taken with psyllium husks to prevent increased constipation and promote defecation. Additionally, psyllium should be taken 1/2 hour to 1 hour after taking other medications.
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1. PDR For Herbal Medicines, 3rd ed. (2004). Thompson PDR, pg. 657.
3. Armstrong, D. (2001). Herbs That Work. Ulysses Press, pg. 120.
4. Tillotson, A. K. (2004). The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook, Twin Streams Health/Kensignton Publishing Corp, pg. 79.
5. Peirce, A. (1999). The American Pharmaceutical Association Practice Guide to Natural Medicines, William Morrow and Company, Inc., pg. 521.
7. Bown, D. (2001). The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses, DK Publishing, Inc., pg. 323.
8. PDR For Herbal Medicines, 3rd ed. (2004). Thompson PDR, pg. 657.
9. Peirce, A.. (1999). The American Pharmaceutical Association Practice Guide to Natural Medicines, William Morrow and Company, Inc., pg. 522.
11. PDR For Herbal Medicines, 3rd ed. (2004). Thompson PDR, pgs. 658-659.