With all the supplements on the shelves these days it’s hard to know which ones are actually valuable, and which ones you should pass on.
Psyllium husk powder is a standard go-to for increasing your fiber intake.
It’s also known for some impressive health-enhancing effects including improved bowel movements, lowered cholesterol levels, decreased blood pressure, and balanced blood sugar levels.
But can taking psyllium really deliver the results?
And furthermore, does this supplement work on a ketogenic diet?
You probably know psyllium husk as that strange powdery substance that kind of looks like a cross between sand and wood shavings. If you’ve dared to add this powder to water you may have been even more mystified but the gelatinous substance that it forms.
So what’s this fiber-forward plant powder all about?
Psyllium comes from a plant called Plantago Ovata, that’s found growing naturally in India and the Mediterranean.
Its traditional use was as an herbal medicine to treat bladder issues, skin infections, and high blood pressure.
The psyllium that you see in stores is derived from the husks of the seeds of the plant, which contain gelatinous fiber. Growing wild, Plantago ovata can reach about 15 centimeters and is covered in fuzzy, white hair. The flowers of the plant contain the seeds from which psyllium is produced[*].
As a supplement, psyllium is most well-known for its fiber content and is often found in both powdered and capsule form.
Although it’s made up of 100% carbohydrate, most of the carbohydrate content of psyllium is actually fiber, about 88% to be exact. And of the fiber content, about 85% is soluble fiber[*].
Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber
To fully grasp the benefits of psyllium, it’s helpful to understand the difference between insoluble and soluble fiber.
Soluble fiber attracts water. It often turns into a gel-like substance and helps soften your stool. It can help slow digestion when necessary, and promote feelings of fullness.
Insoluble fiber does not attract water. Instead, it helps your stool move through your digestive tract and can also add bulk.
One of the most well-known benefits of psyllium is its positive effect on digestive health. From constipation to diarrhea, psyllium seems to bring significant relief for a variety of digestive disorders.
If you’ve ever experienced constipation (and most people have), you know how uncomfortable it can be. Common symptoms include the feeling of incomplete evacuation, cramping, bloating, digestive discomfort, and hard stools.
Psyllium’s gel-like consistency does wonders for helping your stools move through your colon by softening them. It not only increases stool volume, but it lubricates the colon, which helps facilitate movement. This creates a natural laxative effect.
While your gut bacteria ferment many other forms of fiber, a fraction of psyllium fiber remains unfermented. This allows for the bulking and lubricating action, which helps to propel stool along your digestive tract[*].
Diarrhea is perhaps one of the most stressful digestive issues. While there are several causes of diarrhea (food sensitivities, stress, medications, viral infections), the primary issue is that there is too much fluid in your intestines.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder that affects your large intestine. Although researchers haven’t been able to nail down the cause of IBS, several factors may play a role, including:
- Impaired muscle contraction in the intestine
- Inflammation in the intestine
- Nervous system dysfunction
- Changes in gut bacteria
The symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation (often alternating between the two)[*].
Psyllium, with its abundance of soluble fiber, can help relieve some of the symptoms of IBS by assisting with both constipation and diarrhea[*]
In addition, psyllium may help relieve some abdominal pain by relieving pressure in an area of your digestive tract called the rectosigmoid junction. This is the area that regulates the passage of stool from your colon to your rectum for excretion. In other words; it helps you poop properly[*].
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in your large intestine. The causes can vary but include environmental factors, genetics, and an overactive intestinal immune system.
Symptoms of UC include bowel urgency, nausea, loss of appetite, fever, and some people even experience anemia from lack of nutrient absorption[*].
Psyllium can be used to help treat some of the symptoms associated with UC, especially for those in remission[*]. Its beneficial effects are likely due to the production of butyrate, which is a byproduct of psyllium fermentation in your gut.
One study even found psyllium to be just as effective as the pharmaceutical drug Mesalamine to treat inflammatory flare-ups[*].
One of the risk factors for heart disease is the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. As a dietary fiber, psyllium can help pull excess cholesterol out of your body by way of your digestive tract.
It does this by binding to cholesterol that’s released by your liver in the form of bile. As your body eliminates waste, the fiber from psyllium pulls the cholesterol out. This effectively decreases the amount of cholesterol available in your body[*][*].
Another risk factor for heart disease is hypertension (also known as high blood pressure). High blood pressure can increase your risk for blood clots and cause damage to your organs[*].
It turns out, the addition of psyllium to your diet may have a blood pressure lowering effect, although the exact mechanism for this effect is still unknown[*].
Diabetes is a disease marked by elevated levels of blood glucose. In a healthy person, your body would produce the hormone insulin to help shuttle glucose in the blood into your cells.
If you have diabetes, however, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or your cells have become desensitized to its signals. When this happens, glucose has nowhere to go, and therefore builds up in your blood.
Psylliums ability to delay nutrient absorption and slow the transportation of food through your system may help people with type 2 diabetes to stabilize their blood sugar.
In one study, researchers added either psyllium or a placebo to a standard diet that was fed to type 2 diabetics. The psyllium group not only experienced improved blood glucose control but also a decrease in LDL cholesterol[*].
If you’re looking to shed some extra weight, getting more fiber into your diet may be the way to go.
Research supporting psyllium’s effect on weight loss focuses mainly around its ability to increase fullness and reduce appetite.
In one study, researchers gave a group of overweight individuals either:
- A healthy diet plus psyllium
- A healthy diet plus placebo
- Or just psyllium
Both groups taking the psyllium supplement experienced reductions in their BMI, weight, and body fat percentage. However, those eating a healthy diet plus the psyllium experienced even greater losses[*].
Psyllium can actually be used quite effectively on the keto diet to increase moisture in baked products — with a boost of dietary fiber as a plus.
It can also assist in symptoms associated with transitioning into ketosis, like constipation.
One tablespoon of psyllium has[*]:
Now that you’re privy to all the wonders of psyllium, you’re probably wondering how to get started with this fiber supplement. Here are some dosing guidelines, as well as some precautions.
Psyllium should always be taken with a full glass of water. And depending on the dose, you may even want to increase your water intake further.
Psyllium has been shown to be effective in the following doses:
(One tablespoon of psyllium is 10 grams )
|7 grams to 24 grams of psyllium daily
|5 grams to 14 grams of psyllium daily
|10 grams to 20 grams of psyllium daily
|High Blood Pressure[*]:
|15 grams of psyllium daily
|7 grams to 18 grams of psyllium daily
One note: It’s always best to start slow with psyllium. If you’re trying it out on your own begin with just one teaspoon and work up from there. Everyone’s digestion will respond differently to psyllium, and too much at once may make symptoms worse.
Possible Side Effects
Psyllium is generally well-tolerated and safe, but as is true with all supplements, there are some side effects to be aware of.
If taken in excess for your body or your personal needs, you may experience:
- Abdominal pain
There are also some reported cases of allergic reactions to psyllium. Although rare, these symptoms include:
- Itchy nose
You can find psyllium in both powder and capsule form online and in many health food stores.
The powdered supplement typically comes in a large cylinder container, while the capsule can be found in smaller supplement bottles.
There are several brands that sell psyllium, but try to find the organic varieties.
A few stores that sell psyllium include:
- Whole Foods
- Trader Joe’s
Here are a few brands that make organic psyllium:
If you’re following a low-carb diet and have concerns around high cholesterol, digestive system issues, or glycemic control, psyllium may be the supplement for you.
Due to its high fiber content, it works perfectly well with a keto protocol. It can even be added to keto baked foods (pizza anyone?) for increased moisture and texture.
The major caution to be aware of with psyllium is consuming enough water when you take it as a dietary supplement. The high fiber content can backfire if the amount of water you take it with doesn’t provide enough liquid to allow it to bulk.