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Psyllium Fiber Is Versatile Remedy

Psyllium fiber is inexpensive and amazingly versatile. Not only can it control both constipation and diarrhea, it can help heartburn, too.
Psyllium Fiber Is Versatile Remedy
Heap of fresh Psyllium seeds (detailed close-up shot)

Psyllium fiber has become a household name, especially in the brand name formulations where it is found: Konsyl, Metamucil, Nature’s Way Psyllium, and dozens more.

From the 1930s to the 1960s a product called Serutan was widely advertised on radio and TV. The catch phrase was “Natures” spelled backwards equalled Serutan. The natural ingredient (psyllium) was a key selling point on shows like Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, The Lawrence Welk Show and The Original Amateur Hour. Most people considered Serutan (aka psyllium) a gentle laxative. “Regularity” was the main selling point. Many people are surprised to learn that psyllium can also help ease diarrhea and even heartburn.

Help for Heartburn from Psyllium Husk:

Q. I had a bit of trouble with heartburn last summer. But since I started taking psyllium husk (pure organic) for constipation, I’ve had no more problems with heartburn. In addition, I’ve not had constipation, either. It helps the gut function better.

A. Doctors have long recommended the soluble fiber psyllium to combat constipation. Some gastroenterologists recommend it to their patients with irritable bowel syndrome, regardless of the main symptom (Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, March 1, 2021).

You alerted us to yet another use. Dietary fiber such as that provided by psyllium husk can reduce heartburn symptoms (World Journal of Gastroenterology, June 7, 2018). 

Psyllium Fiber for Diarrhea:

Q. I’m the poster child for fiber to control diarrhea.

After an ileostomy for ulcerative colitis, I was a slave to Imodium to control constant loose stools. A doctor prescribed psyllium fiber instead of Imodium for my malady. Miracle of miracles, the fiber not only gave me relief from the diarrhea, it made the stool much softer.

Another benefit was lower cholesterol. After nearly 30 years, I’m living proof of the benefits of a tablespoon of fiber before each meal.

A. Most people think of psyllium as a way to control constipation. But this soluble fiber can also help combat diarrhea (Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, March 1, 2021).

In addition, as you note, psyllium can lower LDL cholesterol (Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, Jan. 16, 2021). (Keep reading to learn more about this.) Moreover, scientists have discovered that this fiber can also lower the glycemic index of a meal (Foods, Feb. 27, 2021). 

You can learn more about psyllium fiber and other ways to manage diarrhea in our eGuide to Overcoming Digestive Disorders.

Psyllium for Doggie Diarrhea:

Q. Several years ago a vet suggested giving our dog Metamucil (psyllium fiber) to prevent chronic diarrhea. I too experienced chronic diarrhea due to food allergies. Because our dog had such good results, my wife suggested that Metamucil might help me. To my surprise, it was virtually a miracle.

When he learned of my experience, my son (associate dean of a pharmacy school) tested Metamucil to minimize his own chronic problem with diarrhea and found it beneficial.

A. Although most people think of Metamucil to counteract constipation, it can also be helpful against some types of diarrhea.  In some people, however, it may make certain symptoms worse (American Journal of Gastroenterology, May, 2013).

Psyllium to Lower Cholesterol:

Because psyllium is a soluble fiber, it also works surprisingly well to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Don’t expect statin-type results, but psyllium is far less likely to cause serious side effects.

A meta-analysis of clinical trials published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (July, 2009) concluded:

“Psyllium could produce dose- and time-dependent serum cholesterol-lowering effect in mild and moderate hypercholesterolemic patients and would be useful as an adjunct to dietary therapy for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia.”

Psyllium Fiber and Blood Sugar Control:

Another unexpected benefit from psyllium is better blood sugar (glycemic) control, especially for people with type 2 diabetes.

A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Dec. 2015) concluded:

“These data indicate that psyllium would be an effective addition to a lifestyle-intervention program. The degree of psyllium’s glycemic benefit was commensurate with the loss of glycemic control. Because the greatest effect was seen in patients who were being treated for T2DM, additional studies are needed to determine how best to incorporate psyllium into existing prevention and treatment algorithms with concomitant hypoglycemic medications.”

Perhaps we should not have been surprised that psyllium fiber can help hypertension (Korean Journal of Internal Medicine, Nov. 2020). Although the effect was significant, it was modest, about 2 points. However, it was strongest for volunteers whose initial blood pressure was highest. Moreover, it is a very low risk intervention with multiple other potential benefits.

Learn More: 

If you would like to learn more about psyllium and its pros and cons, check out this link in our herb library.

 You can also discover more about medications and nondrug approaches to gastrointestinal problems from our eGuide to Digestive Disorders.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Citations
  • Surdea-Blaga T et al, "Dietary interventions and irritable bowel syndrome - what really works?" Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, March 1, 2021. DOI: 10.1097/MOG.0000000000000706
  • Morozov S et al, "Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease." World Journal of Gastroenterology, June 7, 2018. DOI: 10.3748/wjg.v24.i21.2291
  • Schoeneck M & Iggman D, "The effects of foods on LDL cholesterol levels: A systematic review of the accumulated evidence from systematic reviews and meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials." Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, Jan. 16, 2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.numecd.2020.12.032
  • Romao B et al, "Glycemic index of gluten-free bread and their main ingredients: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Foods, Feb. 27, 2021. DOI: 10.3390/foods10030506
  • Eswaran S et al, "Fiber and functional gastrointestinal disorders." American Journal of Gastroenterology, May, 2013. DOI: 10.1038/ajg.2013.63
  • Wei Z-h et al, "Time- and dose-dependent effect of psyllium on serum lipids in mild-to-moderate hypercholesterolemia: a meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July, 2009. DOI: 10.1038/ejcn.2008.49
  • Gibb RD et al, "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." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dec. 2015. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.115.106989
  • Clark CCT et al, "The effect of psyllium supplementation on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." Korean Journal of Internal Medicine, Nov. 2020. DOI: 10.3904/kjim.2019.049
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