The Benefits Of Psyllium Husk & How To Use It

Dr Jess Garden, gastroenterology

Dr Jess says: Psyllium husk is a safe, natural and effective fiber that can revolutionise your digestion. This is probably one of the products I recommend the most to patients with digestive problems including IBS, bowel disease, constipation or diarrhoea. 

It is also great as a support alongside a healthy diet for losing weight and helping blood sugars in diabetics. I have seen it work wonderfully in my patients and it is a favourite for our family for keeping you ‘regular’.

A wide range of clinical evidence is now backing up the effectiveness of this supplement.

Traditionally used in Ayurvedic Medicine to help both diarrhoea and constipation…

Psyllium (Plantago ovata/ psyllium seed) or Isphagula husk has been used in Ayurdevic medicine (known as Isabgol) for thousands of years. Traditionally it is taken to help ease both constipation and diarrhoea, and for bleeding haemorrhoids. It is also used in traditional Indian medicine for dry coughs where it is difficult to bring up sputum.

Psyllium is now much more widely used and there are over 100 clinical trials showing its benefits, and it is shown to be very safe…

When taken for 1 year a trial showed very few adverse effects and these were mild suggesting Psyllium is a safe, long term treatment (1).

It has been shown to be effective for treatment of diarrhoea… 

Psyllium given to patients who had drug-induced diarrhoea significantly improved it (2). It has also been shown to be as effective as Loperamide (Imodium) at improving diarrhoea (3) or faecal incontinence, with fewer side effects (4). Psyllium can also significantly improve symptoms including diarrhoea and abdominal pain in patients with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s, especially when taken alongside a probiotic (5)(6). A study showed Psyllium may be as effective as the leading medication to help prevent episodes of Ulcerative Colitis (7).

Psyllium can help constipation… 

Psyllium has been shown to effectively improve constipation when taken daily in studies over a few weeks (8)(9)(10) and has even been shown to be more effective than leading laxatives (9). It has even been shown to improve constipation and recovery in patients after obstruction – a very severe form of constipation which may require surgery (11)(12).

It may help IBS and tummy pain in children…

A reasonable sized study of 275 adult patients with IBS showed a significant improvement in symptoms when taking Psyllium husk (13). A study of 103 children with IBS showed an improvement in the number of episodes of abdominal pain in children with IBS taking Psyllium husk (14).

It has also been shown to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and help loss of fat…

Psyllium has a large number of studies showing its benefit in reducing LDL (bad cholesterol). Over 4-8 weeks it has been shown to significantly reduce LDL cholesterol in patients with high cholesterol (15), children and adolescents with high cholesterol (16), obese teenagers who also had an improvement in body fat distribution (17) and the elderly with high cholesterol (18).

Men with high cholesterol had an excellent response to taking Psyllium for 8 weeks, with a significant decrease in LDL whilst continuing their normal diet (19). It may have more benefit in lowering cholesterol when taken with or near food (20).

Psyllium may help lower hunger (and therefore snacking) between meals…

Taking Psyllium showed a significant decrease in hunger and increase in feeling full in between meals (21). Psyllium decreases feelings of hunger and reduces the amount of food you want to eat which may make it a good aid for weight loss (22).

It may help improve blood sugar and insulin levels, reducing the risk of diabetes…

Psyllium can improve blood sugar and the body’s insulin response, and improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels reducing risk factors for diabetes (23). Taking Psyllium husk before meals significantly reduced the rise in blood sugar and insulin in type 2 diabetic patients, suggesting it is helpful for maintaining good blood sugar levels (24).

Psyllium also reduced blood sugar and HbA1c levels (a blood marker of sugar over the longer term) in a well-conducted study of diabetics (25).

Other benefits:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) – Psyllium taken daily for 6 months significantly reduced the blood pressure of patients with high blood pressure (26).
  • Haemorrhoidectomy – Patients recovered faster and had less pain and complications after surgery for haemorrhoids when taking Psyllium husk (27).
  • Bowel Cancer risk – Psyllium husk taken regularly may reduce your risk of colon cancer (28).

Discuss Psyllium husk with your healthcare practitioner if you wish to use it and have any risk of bowel obstruction (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease or bowel cancer). Be careful to consume plenty of water during the day when taking Psyllium. 

It is also important not to take Psyllium husk for up to 4 days before a colonoscopy (camera test looking at the bowel).