Psyllium husks are obtained from the seed of Plantago ovata, a plant native to India. Psyllium has many physical benefits and has been shown to prevent and help in the treatment of many conditions such as cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, constipation, diarrhea, obesity, high blood sugar and inflammatory bowel diseases. Psyllium's main benefits come from the high amount of soluble fiber it contains, and to understand how psyllium functions, it's important to understand a bit about fiber and the digestive tract.
Psyllium is a type of fiber. Fiber is the part of plants we eat that contains a chemical bond which our bodies cannot break down. Consequently, it passes through the body unabsorbed. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber forms a compound with water, and the result is a gel that mixes with and softens the stool. Psyllium is a soluble type of fiber, and is normally ingested mixed in a glass of water, and enters the digestive tract to begin its work.
Because psyllium is soluble, it needs to have an adequate amount of water with which to mix, or it can potentially cause bowel obstruction, constipation and other problems. Psyllium should be taken with at least a full glass of water and six to eight additional glasses throughout the day to prevent these complications and to allow the psyllium husks enough water to function.
The gel psyllium forms acts as a bulking laxative. In order for fecal matter to be moved through the intestines in a healthy manner, it must have enough substance, or bulk, to allow the digestive mechanisms to transport it. The gelatin-like condition converted psyllium functions as a substance that mixes with the fecal waste, softening it, absorbing select substances and allowing for a clean elimination process.
While psyllium is in the intestines, it absorbs some of the precursors to cholesterol. Rather than these elements crossing into the bloodstream, they are held and eliminated from the body with the psyllium. Because psyllium helps prevent sluggish fecal matter stagnating in the intestines, it contributes to a healthier colon and can aid in deterring colon cancer or treating inflammatory bowel diseases. Psyllium is most commonly used to address constipation. The softening laxative qualities of psyllium make it invaluable for mixing with and moving inactive fecal matter. Conversely, diarrhea can also be treated with psyllium, which will absorb the excess water and calm the intestines.