While psyllium is often associated with helping regulate bowel movements and improving digestion, the supplement has benefits that reach other parts of your body, as well.
Digestion and Gut Health
Psyllium acts as a stool softener and is most frequently used as a laxative. Chronic constipation is a common gastrointestinal condition, affecting up to 12 percent of adults, according to a research review published in July 2022 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Fiber supplementation, particularly psyllium, is effective at treating constipation when used for at least four weeks, the authors of the review concluded.
But constipation isn’t the only GI disorder psyllium can help with. “Psyllium can also reduce diarrhea by absorbing excess water in the gut and forming a more solid stool,” Dr. Brown says.
Psyllium can also help to relieve symptoms of hemorrhoids, such as itching, discomfort, and rectal bleeding, by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation, Brown notes. One past study of 102 adults with severe hemorrhoids found that supplementing with psyllium husk stopped the progression of the condition and prevented surgery from being necessary for the majority of patients.
Excessive gas is one of the prominent symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The results of one small study of 19 people with IBS suggested that psyllium husk may help alleviate these, as well as other symptoms like abdominal pain and bloating. The findings were published in Gut in 2022, but additional research is needed.
When it comes to inflammatory bowel disorders like Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis, the evidence is mixed due to the complex nature of IBD. “Some studies have suggested that psyllium may help to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms in people with IBD, while others have found no significant benefits and can cause more discomfort,” Brown notes. “More research is needed to fully understand the effects of psyllium on IBD.” If you have Crohn or ulcerative colitis and are curious about psyllium supplementation, talk to your doctor, who can help you decide how much fiber is right for you.
A new area of research is psyllium’s effect on the gut microbiome, the community of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms that are present in the gastrointestinal tract. A small study, published online in the International Journal of Molecular Science in January 2019, suggests that psyllium can have a positive impact on the gut microbiome. “Psyllium is a prebiotic fiber, which helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut,” Schleiger says. “Optimal amounts of beneficial bacteria in the gut are essential not only for regular bowel habits but also for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.”
Research, including a review of 28 clinical trials published in November 2018 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has shown that psyllium can lower total, as well as LDL or “bad” cholesterol. “This is likely due to its ability to absorb water and form a gel-like substance in the gut, which can trap cholesterol and other waste products and carry them out of the body,” Brown explains.
Adding fiber to your diet, particularly psyllium husk, may also help lower blood pressure, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Korean Journal of Internal Medicine in January 2020. These benefits of psyllium means it may be a useful tool in warding off heart disease.
Psyllium husk may also help people better manage type 2 diabetes. One past study looked at 40 patients with type 2 diabetes, 20 of whom were put on 10.5 grams of psyllium every day, while the other 20 continued their normal diet. After eight weeks, those on the high-fiber diet experienced a significant reduction in blood sugar levels compared with those on their regular diet. “Psyllium slows the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which can help to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels,” Brown says. The supplement may also be a useful tool in preventing diabetes in those at risk, per Mount Sinai.