Psyllium comes from the husk surrounding the seeds of an herb called Plantago ovata, or blond psyllium. When exposed to water, psyllium swells and forms a gel-like mass called mucilage. For therapeutic use, it is available as a loose powder or compressed into granules, wafers or tablets. Whether loose powder or tablets, each form contains the same type of psyllium. Research indicates that psyllium may be a beneficial addition to a healthful diet.
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The first consumer use for psyllium was as a laxative. When you take it with water, psyllium bulks up and stimulates the intestines to move stool through the bowels, effectively relieving constipation. The website Drugs warns that you should drink at least 8 oz. of liquid with the psyllium. If you don't take enough water with the psyllium tablet, it can swell in the throat and cause choking.
Studies have found that not only does psyllium help with dietary control of diabetes, but it also helps reduce fasting glucose levels in type II diabetics. A study in a 1998 article in the Journal of Diabetes Complications indicated that an effective dosage of psyllium is 5 g before each meal. The study also showed that fasting glucose decreased after six weeks of psyllium treatment.
In patients with mild to moderately high cholesterol, the website Drugs notes that psyllium may effectively reduce cholesterol. The Journal of Diabetes Complications article also noted that in combination with a low-fat diet, psyllium significantly reduced total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein. Additionally, a significant increase occurred in good HDL cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein. Researchers noted these effects in patients after six weeks of taking 5 g of psyllium three times a day.
Consuming 12 g of psyllium a day may lower blood pressure. The University of Maryland reports that one study found benefits after six months of psyllium supplementation. Also a diet high in psyllium is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.