Psyllium

Make Sure You Eat Enough Fiber

Fruit & Vegetables

Fruit & Vegetables

Make sure you eat enough fiber- We hear this comment a lot these days – but this is nothing new. Dieticians and others in the medical profession have known for many years that most of us do not eat enough dietary fiber. I can recall my father ate All Bran as a breakfast cereal for most of his life. That memory is over 60 years old.

But the message remains the same today and is, perhaps, even more important now that there are so many refined foods around.

The message is

‘We need to ensure that we consume sufficient fiber in our diet to maintain good gastrointestinal function’
.

That generally means eating more of those foods that remain in their natural or unprocessed state – like vegetables, whole grains and fruit. But this is not always possible for everyone. So if you want to ensure that you do consume enough fiber in your diet there are a number of proprietary products on the market that can help

Fiber – Soluble and Insoluble?
Along with the advice to eat more fiber we often hear the description of fiber being either soluble or insoluble. Which for many of us is quite confusing.
How can you have a fiber that is soluble?
But in dietary terms there definitely is a soluble fiber so we should learn a little bit more about it.

One of the most commonly referred to soluble dietary fibers is psyllium or psyllium husk which is commonly available in many proprietary laxative formulations such as Metamucil Psyllium Fiber. And depending on where you live there are also other names for over-the-counter laxative formulations such as Bonvit or Fybogel. And you can also often buy psyllium powder or psyllium husk in its raw or unprepared form in many health food shops.

What Is Psyllium?

Psyllium Fiber

Psyllium Fiber

Psyllium or psyllium husk is a plant derived material which comes from a shrub or herb like a plant called plantago ovata. This plant can be found in many places around the world but it is most common in India. And it is from India that the vast bulk of this material is produced.

The plant itself can produce as many as 15,000 small seeds that have a gelcoat and it is from the coating of these seeds that the psyllium husk is obtained. The seeds are milled or ground through a mechanical process that removes the outer layer of the seed. And it is this which we refer to as psyllium husk. In some instances the husk is used as it is without further processing. For most dietary purposes the husk is ground to a finer powder and may then be combined with a few other additives to improve the taste.

The biggest importer of psyllium is the United States and by far the most vast majority of the product goes to pharmaceutical companies for making products such as Metamucil. Other uses include the food manufacturing industry where it can be used as a thickener for products such as ice cream and frozen desserts.

How Does It Work
The first thing to appreciate is that dietary fiber (soluble or insoluble) is not digested as it passes through the small intestine. It essentially passes through the body and it is eliminated with the waste products more or less unchanged.

The other thing to understand is that when the psyllium husks or powder come into contact with water they become mucilaginous – which is probably a fanciful way of saying they become a clear colorless gel that expands up to 10 times their original volume. The advantage of this is that when it is taken orally it absorbs water and forms a consistent bulk within the stomach and intestine to soften the stool and improve the bowel movement.

Important Precautions
An important point to note is that because of its ability to absorb water it is imperative that adequate water is taken at the same time as the psyllium product – it is recommended that a full glass of water (8oz) is drunk with it. And also drink sufficient water during the day.

Some administrations have issued a warning about this. In cases where insufficient water is taken there is a risk of choking. While the risk is small for proprietary products the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported the following finding.

“Esophageal obstruction and asphyxiation due to orally-administered drug products containing water-soluble gums, hydrophilic gums, and hydrophilic mucilloids as active ingredients are significant health risks when these products are taken without adequate fluid or when they are used by individuals with esophageal narrowing or dysfunction, or with difficulty in swallowing.”

And the US FDA requires both a Choking warning and Directions in a specific form for a number of products of this nature including psyllium. Use this link for the precise FDA information

There are also precautions regarding the use of psyllium if you are taking certain drugs. This is because it can lower either their effectiveness or absorption. So it is important to discuss such matters with your doctor if you are taking prescription drugs and using an over the counter psyllium based product.

What is Psyllium used for?
Undoubtedly the most commonly understood use is as a mild natural laxative. And while this certainly the most obvious use of the product it is technically a fiber and can therefore be used to relieve both constipation and diarrhea. The latter because of its water absorption and retention properties.

Another use is as a weight loss aid or supplement. Because of its ability to expand when it absorbs water it can help to create a feeling of fullness and reduce the hunger pangs. This in turn helps reduce the food intake required to feel satisfied.

This is not medical dissertation but there are a range of other conditions that have been associated with the use of psyllium. These are not conclusive results just that some studies have been done on the topic, sometimes with mixed results.

  • Blood Pressure – Blood pressure may be lowered with psyllium particularly for those who are overweight
  • Diabetes – May aid in lowering insulin and blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • Heart Disease – A diet high in soluble fiber like psyllium can be associated with lower triglycerides
  • High Cholesterol – Again some studies have shown soluble fibers can lower cholesterol levels
  • Bowel Issues – Such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) may benefit from the appropriate use of a soluble fiber and that includes psyllium

This information is not medical advice. Always consult your doctor first.
But it does indicate that there are a range of reasons for using fiber supplements in the diet.

For more detailed information websites such as Wikipedia and the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) are two that may be of interest.

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One Response to “Psyllium”

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  1. D.G. says:

    Yes I agree with you. We do hear a lot about making sure we get enough fiber in our diets and yes I think this is actually very important.
    What i was not aware of is that Psyllium is beneficial for so many health issues. Most interestingly blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. This is really very good, well put together information. I am glad I came across this blog post because of what I learnt from it.

    Thanks…

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