Psyllium, the husk of the seed of the Plantago ovata plant is a rich source of fiber. It’s rich in carbs like xylose, arabinose, uronic acids, glucose, etc. Psyllium is known for its benefits for the digestive system, especially as a gentle laxative. The unfermentable and semi-fermentable fibers in psyllium attract water in the large intestine and form a gel-like substance, which then attaches to partly digested food and makes the stool moist, bulky, and easier to pass. It can also soak up excess water in the gut and prevent diarrhea.
Psyllium is the husk of the seed of the Plantago ovata plant. It’s an ideal item to supplement your diet with if your daily fiber intake does not touch the 25–38 g mark.
Psyllium contains carbohydrates like xylose, arabinose, uronic acids, galactose, rhamnose, mannose, glucose, and ribose.
Why It’s So Great
1. Regularizes Bowel Movement
Psyllium’s claim to fame is its influence on the digestive system – more specifically, in making bowel movements regular. It is a gentle laxative that helps you pass stool without any loss of nutrients.
- By making the stool bulky and softer: Psyllium is composed mainly of fiber. Usually, fiber is broken down in your gut by bacteria. But psyllium fiber is largely unfermentable or poorly fermentable. Which means the unfermented fiber is free to attract water, form a gel, and attach itself to partly digested food, making stool bulky and moist. Not only does the stool then create more pressure, it is also easier to pass.
- By stimulating peristalsis: Psyllium also helps food down your food tract by increasing a special type of movement called peristalsis. Peristalsis is a series of wave-like contractions in the smooth muscles of the food tract. The whole thing is coordinated by the nervous system. A chemical messenger called acetylcholine fits like a key into certain locks (muscarinic receptors, specifically M3) on the smooth cells in the intestine and starts off a chain of events, which culminates in contraction. Another chemical messenger called serotonin fits into a different type of locks called 5HT-4, and this too results in muscle contraction. Psyllium has chemicals that fit both these locks and help relieve constipation.
The plus point is that unlike other fibers, psyllium doesn’t cause flatulence and bloating because only a small portion of the fiber is fermentable by the bacteria in the gut. However, that small amount is sufficient for psyllium to nourish the healthy gut bacteria. The bacteria in your gut have a big say in your health too.
2. Improves Diarrhea
Can the remedy for diarrhea ever be the same as the remedy for constipation? Yes, if it’s psyllium husk. Since the husk absorbs water, even when you have diarrhea, it can soak up the excess water in the colon and add bulk to the stool. There’s more.
- Blocks calcium channels: Diarrhea entails cramps and frequent stools. These are caused by frequent contractions of the intestinal muscles. Since muscle contraction is caused due to the flow of calcium ions into the muscle cells, blocking the calcium doors (channels) can help the muscle relax. Psyllium has chemicals that do just that. They block calcium channels and help reduce the number of trips you may need to make to the toilet.
In fact, this contrary quality in psyllium – stimulating as well as dampening bowel movement – is what makes it a gentle laxative.
3. Helps the Heart
Any fiber is good news for your heart. Psyllium too. It stabilizes your cholesterol levels. The amount of cholesterol in your blood has a direct influence on your overall health. Your body has its own mechanism of maintaining the balance between the different types of cholesterol. Psyllium can support it. The fiber in it scoops up bile acids. So to make fresh bile acid, the liver uses up free LDL cholesterol in the blood. This brings about a better balance between LDLs and HDLs.
If you have a fat-rich diet and little to no exercise, or you are at an age (45–55) where cholesterol levels tend to go up naturally, you could give psyllium husk a try.
You could have 5 g of psyllium up to thrice a day, after meals. Mix the husk or the powder in water. Make sure you drink a lot of water since being highly water-absorbing, the husk can be dehydrating.
Alternatively, you could mix psyllium powder or husk into smoothies or oats porridge. You could even use it to bake.