Nutrition > Food Facts

Psyllium husk – Everything you need to know about the use, intake and effects of the fiber

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

Psyllium husks are a traditional remedy. They help with diarrhea, constipation and can also positively influence the course of inflammatory bowel diseases. Psyllium husks can bind water and swell. This makes them well suited to regulate the stool. In addition, the shells secrete a mucus that lies like a protective layer on the intestinal wall. More information on the effects and tolerability of the natural product can be found here.

What are psyllium husks and where do they come from?

Psyllium and the husks have a long history remedy. They were imported to India from the Orient around 1,000 years ago. As the name suggests, they are husks from psyllium. They are among the soluble fibers. Psyllium seeds belong to the family of the plantains (Latin Plantago). A distinction is made between the Indian psyllium (Plantago ovata) and the psyllium of the Plantago afra, also called Plantago psyllium. The latter are mainly available here in Germany.

Psyllium seeds have a small, oval shape and a mostly dark color. The husks are rather white to yellow and therefore resemble oatmeal. The taste of the husks is relatively neutral. You can therefore combine them well with other foods.

How do psyllium seeds differ from psyllium husk?

Psyllium and psyllium husks are both products of the same plant. The difference arises in the manufacture. With psyllium, the complete seeds are used. As the name suggests, only the outer shell is used for psyllium husks. The inner core, which is rich in fats and proteins, is removed.

The reason for this is that psyllium and psyllium husk have a different swelling index. This unit of measure describes the ability of the products to absorb water. It measures how many milliliters of liquid a gram of product binds within four hours.

For whole psyllium, this number is around nine. However, if you only use the husks, the index increases to over 40. That means, that psyllium husks bind lot more water than the seeds. In a medical application, husks can therefore produce a stronger response.

The slime-forming polysaccharide layer is mainly present on the husk. The nutritional value is higher compared to the seeds. On average, 100 grams of psyllium husk have 185 kilocalories. In contrast, 100 grams of seeds have only around 28 kilocalories.


Caution

Due to the different swelling indexes of psyllium husks and psyllium, one should take care to adjust the dose and not to confuse both products.


What effect do psyllium husks have?

When in contact with liquid, psyllium husks swell. Through the outer layer of long-chain sugars (carbohydrates), they bind water and multiply their volume. In addition to the high proportion of fiber, this swelling ability is essential for the positive effects of psyllium husk on digestion.

In addition, psyllium husks produce a kind of mucus. The mucus binds on the intestinal wall as a protective film and prevents irritation. It also facilitates the passage of food through the intestine. In addition, psyllium husks are said to bind harmful substances and thus discharge them from the body via the stool.

In the event of diarrhea, the psyllium husks help to firm up the stool. They bind the excess water in the intestine and shape the bowel movements. Due to this thickening, the stool stays in the intestine longer: And you have to go to the toilet less often.

In the event of constipation, swelling of the shells increases the volume of the stool. This gives the intestine the signal that it should empty itself and the natural intestinal movements (intestinal motility) are strengthened. The intestine gets moving again so to speak.

When should you use psyllium husk?

Psyllium husks are commonly used for the regulation of bowel movements. This is mostly useful for chronic constipation or diarrhea. Due to confirmation by some positive studies, the use of psyllium husk is also recommended for irritable bowel syndrome. The husks can also have a positive effect on the gastrointestinal tract in other diseases, for example in Crohn's disease.

What influence do psyllium husks have on other diseases?

Diabetes mellitus and diseases of the cardiovascular system are typical common diseases in industrialized countries. Among other things, they are triggered by high blood sugar and fat levels. Various studies have shown that regular use of psyllium husk in combination with a diet can have a positive effect on these values.


The use of psyllium husks can be useful for these diseases:

  • Permanent (chronic) constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritable bowel
  • Crohn's disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Diabetes mellitus (type 2)
  • Increased blood lipid levels

How to use psyllium husk

Psyllium husks are either consumed plain or mixed with water, juice or yogurt. It is very important that you drink enough fluids. You should drink at least one and a half to two liters of water throughout the day. The shells bind the fluid in the intestine and thus facilitate bowel movements. However, if there is not enough liquid, it can lead to negative consequences such as constipation.


Important

If you have a chronic illness and are taking medications, you should consult with a doctor before the use of psyllium husk. The husks can bind active ingredients of medication in the intestine and thus restrict the effect. Generally, there must be at least three hours between taking psyllium husks and medication.


If treatment with psyllium husk is prescribed by a doctor, you should follow the specified dose. Usually you take five grams of psyllium husk three times a day with a large glass of water. In general, it is recommended to start with a small dose. Depending on your needs, this can be gradually increased until the desired effect is achieved.

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What side effects can occur?

Side effects occur only very rarely with psyllium husk. If side effects occur they usually do so at the beginning of the use. Bloating and stomach cramps are typical. This depends on the increased proportion of fiber, which is now digested in the intestine. On the other hand, changing the stool consistency leads to increased bowel movements (intestinal motility). As a result, some people experience loud bowel sounds. However, the digestive system usually gets used to it after a few days and the symptoms subside. In rare cases, allergic reactions can occur, which is why you should always test compatibility beforehand.

Without sufficient fluid, the husks can stick together in the intestinal tract and further remove fluid from the stool. Stool hardening and constipation may result. Typical symptoms such as cramps, flatulence, malaise and difficulties with bowel movements can arise.

When is treatment with psyllium husk advised against?

With narrowing of the esophagus, stomach or intestines, side effects may occur. Dysphagia or other throat problems are a contraindication: Under certain circumstances, the small husks can get into the lungs. People who already have had a bowel obstruction or have an increased risk of it, should also refrain from using psyllium husks. Diabetics, whose illness is difficult to adjust, should discuss the intake of the psyllium husk with the doctor, because intake can lead to negative effects on the course of the disease.

People with hypersensitivity should not consume psyllium and psyllium husks. Otherwise, allergic reactions such as a rash, runny nose or eye irritation can occur. Children under twelve years as well as older people should also refrain from eating the husks.

Where can you buy psyllium husks?

You can now buy psyllium seeds almost anywhere. They can be found in drugstores, health food stores and organic shops as well as in well-stocked supermarkets. There are also online shops on the Internet where you can order home remedies.

Overview of providers and prices

Where to buy? Product name Price
dm market DAS gesunde PLUS, shredded psyllium husk, 250 grams 5.45 euros
Rossmann Zirkulin psyllium husk, 250 grams 7.99 euros
Alnatura Alnatura, organic psyllium husk, 200 grams 4.49 euros
Edeka Alnatura, organic psyllium husk, 200 grams 4.49 euros
miller Alnatura, organic psyllium husk, 200 grams 4.49 euros
Online pharmacy For example Kademann Pharma, Indian psyllium husks loose, 400 grams 10.90 euros

Gibb RD, McRorie JW, Jr., Russell DA, Hasselblad V, D'Alessio DA. Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus. _Am J Clin Nutr. _2015;102(6):1604-1614.

Jovanovski E, Yashpal S, Komishon A, et al. Effect of psyllium (Plantago ovata) fiber on LDL cholesterol and alternative lipid targets, non-HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. _Am J Clin Nutr. _2018;108(5):922-932.

Kumar A, Kumar N, Vij JC, Sarin SK, Anand BS. Optimum dosage of ispaghula husk in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: correlation of symptom relief with whole gut transit time and stool weight. _Good. _1987;28(2):150-155.

Mehmood MH, Aziz N, Ghayur MN, Gilani AH. Pharmacological basis for the medicinal use of psyllium husk (Ispaghula) in constipation and diarrhea. _Dig Dis Sci. _2011;56(5):1460-1471.

Slavin J. Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. _Nutrients. _2013;5(4):1417-1435.

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

Dr. med. Andre Sommer

I’m André, a medical doctor from Berlin. Together with a team of medical doctors, nutritionists and data scientists we empower people to understand digestive issues with our app Cara Care.

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