PSYLLIUM HUSKS FOR HEALTH
Psyllium has been on the radar of those in the know in the natural health world for quite some time now, but more recently the seeds and husks of this plant have seen a steady increase in popularity with those suffering with digestive complaints.
Now often found in the convenient form of health supplements (such as capsules, drinks and food-based powders), let’s take a look at the ways in which psyllium may be able to support health – and healthy digestion, more particularly.
What is psyllium?
Psyllium comes from a plant called Plantago ovata, which is native to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Psyllium seed husks (also known as ispaghula and isabgol) are indigestible and are therefore a valuable source of dietary fibre – similar to oats and wheat, but with the added benefit that they are free from gluten (and therefore also suitable for coeliacs and those with a gluten sensitivity).
Psyllium comprises approximately 70% soluble fibre and 30% insoluble fibre. Both types are indigestible and pass through the intestinal tract largely unaltered.
The health benefits of dietary fibre have long been appreciated; higher intakes from quality sources have not only been linked to more efficient digestion and gut health, they have also been associated with everything from heart health to healthy weight management.
How does psyllium work in the body?
As a source of insoluble fibre, psyllium is bulk-forming – it can increase the weight, bulk and softness of stool.
As a source of soluble fibre, it is also able to dissolve in the water soaked up from your gut. This forms a thick gummy solution, which also contributes to bulk. In fact, in powder form it can actually swell up to 60 times its own weight in the presence of liquid.
Together, these actions can help to make bowel movements easier and more regular.
More generally, psyllium can also support health in the ways described below.
Many natural health practitioners, particularly those who emphasise the importance of the state of the digestive tract, recommend psyllium for colon cleansing.
This is because, as well as its ability to help promote efficient digestion and restore normal bowel movements, it can also absorb heavy metals and bind with other toxins found in the colon. As the fibre remains undigested, these harmful elements and waste materials can pass quickly and safely out of the body.
An efficient and clean colon is often considered to be the cornerstone of general health and well-being.
Psyllium is not just used for its digestive health properties; as a quality form of dietary fibre, it can also help to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream (and thereby support stable blood sugar levels), as well as lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels by binding with these fats in the gut.
Coupled with the fact that its bulking action can help you to feel fuller for longer, psyllium can therefore be an ideal food supplement for supporting healthy weight management and appetite control (if used in conjunction with a well-balanced, calorie-controlled diet).
As already mentioned above, psyllium has long been recognised for its potential role in helping to reduce blood cholesterol.
In fact, as early as 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (or FDA) approved the following health claim relating to this herb:
“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.”
Using psyllium for maximum benefit and effect
As with all supplements, to get the maximum benefit from using psyllium, you should include it as just one component of a well-balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. If in doubt, always consult your doctor or other qualified health practitioner before changing your diet or taking a new supplement.
If you do choose to supplement your diet with psyllium, make sure to up your intake of dietary fibre slowly. Too much fibre added too quickly can lead to bloating, wind and cramps – often the reason you’re seeking out additional sources of dietary fibre in the first place!
So, whenever you increase your fibre intake, be sure to increase your water intake too. Otherwise, the fibre can dry up in your gut and actually worsen conditions like constipation.
Psyllium husk is a wonderful mixture of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Follow these few simple rules and you too can enjoy a new source of dietary fibre, which can help to support your overall health and vitality and keep your tummy smiling.