For most people, they first heard of psyllium from a 2004 Kellogg’s breakfast cereal starred by William Shatner. A recent Metamucil TV commercial re-sparked an interest in the role of psyllium in cholesterol-lowering. So, what exactly is psyllium husk? Can it help lower cholesterol or prevent constipation?
What is Psyllium Husk?
Psyllium husk comes from the crushed seeds of the Plantago ovata plant, an herb native to parts of Asia, the Mediterranean and North Africa. The psyllium seed husks have been used in herbal remedies. Similar to oats and wheat, psyllium is rich in soluble fiber. Traditionally, psyllium husk is used as a gentle bulk-forming laxative for constipation.
Psyllium Husk for High Cholesterol
Indeed, psyllium has long been recognized for its potential role in reducing blood cholesterol. As early as in 1998, the FDA already approved a health claim on psyllium:
- “3 to 12 grams of soluble fiber from psyllium seed husk when included as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease”
Studies have shown that psyllium husk is effective in lowering total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein or LDL (the bad cholesterol) levels.
- Oat/Oat bran
- Dried beans and peas
- Flax seed
- Fruits such as oranges and apples
- Vegetables such as carrots
- Breakfast cereals containing psyllium or oats
- Baked goods containing psyllium husk or oats
Other Benefits of Psyllium Husk
Since psyllium husk provides fiber, it can alleviate constipation. In addition, recent studies also showed positive benefits of psyllium husk in IBD (Crohn’s Disease and Colitis). In addition, psyllium husk can act as prebiotics – aiding to heal the inner lining of the inflamed intestines.
The Bottom Line
Psyllium husk is very rich in soluble fiber. Therefore, we only need to eat a small serving to contribute the soluble fiber to help achieve the cholesterol-lowering effect. Standard preparations of psyllium are available in dry seed or husk form, to be mixed with water as needed. You will also find them in capsules, or powder form. Many food products, such as breakfast cereals and baked goods, also contain psyllium. Read the label properly to ensure that you are eating an appropriate amount of psyllium in order to achieve the cholesterol-lowering effect.
- In general, prescription drugs should be taken one hour before or two hours after psyllium, because the absorption and effectiveness of drugs may be reduced.
- In addition, all foods bearing a psyllium health claim must also bear a label statement concerning the need to consume them with adequate amounts of fluids.
Gloria Tsang is the author of 5 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.