December 10, 2023

Should You Be Using Psyllium Husk?

The fiber supplement can help ease constipation, manage diabetes and lower LDL cholesterol

psyllium husk and psyllium husk powder on wooden spoon and in wooden bowl

Constipated? Eat more fiber.

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Wanting to improve your IBS symptoms? Eat more fiber.

Trying to manage your diabetes? Eat more fiber.

Looking to lower your LDL cholesterol? Eat more fiber.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Eat more fiber” more than you’d like. But there’s good reason it’s a popular refrain. Fiber does all kinds of great things in your body.

And you may have heard about psyllium husk, a type of soluble fiber. It’s been getting a lot of hype when it comes to weight loss (some have called it the “poor man’s Ozempic®” or “natural Ozempic”).

So, what does psyllium husk do?

Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, explains the benefits of psyllium husk and if it will actually help you lose weight.

What is psyllium husk?

Native to India, psyllium is a seed — and psyllium husk is the outer covering of psyllium.

“It’s a soluble fiber, therefore, it absorbs water to form a gel that can be used in baking or as a supplement,” explains Zumpano.

You can typically find psyllium husk in fiber supplements like Metamucil®. And you can find psyllium husk powder and psyllium husk capsules or pills.

You may be wondering: Is psyllium husk gluten-free?

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Yes, says Zumpano.

“It can be added to drinks or foods to help increase fiber intake,” she adds. “It can be used as a gum in gluten-free baked goods.”

And psyllium husk can be gentler on your digestive system than stimulant or osmotic laxatives. It doesn’t cause your intestines to contract or use water to soften your stool. It works by increasing the weight of your stool, which helps trigger a bowel movement.

Psyllium husk benefits

Psyllium husk comes with a few health benefits like:

  • Constipation relief. Yes, you can use psyllium husk for constipation. All soluble fibers help bulk and bind stools making them easier to pass. Research shows psyllium husk works well without any major side effects.
  • Diarrhea relief. It helps bind loose stools. And if you have IBS, research shows that psyllium husk can help reduce inflammation in the gut.
  • Blood sugar management. “It slows down the rate of glucose in the bloodstream, which if used on a regular basis can help control blood sugars,” explains Zumpano. If you have diabetes, research shows that taking psyllium husk before a meal can lower your fasting blood sugar.
  • Cholesterol management. “Soluble fiber binds around bile, which is composed of cholesterol in our gut and helps the body remove bile,” says Zumpano. “This can lead to LDL reduction.” In fact, research shows that using psyllium husk with statin drugs may enhance their effects.

Psyllium husk also has some prebiotic qualities.

“Although psyllium is resistant to fermentation, gut bacteria can ferment a small amount of psyllium, which creates short-chain fatty acids including butyrate which has some health benefits,” she adds.

Does psyllium husk help with weight loss?

It can.

“Fiber can keep you fuller longer and sooner, which can lead to decreased appetite and overall intake,” explains Zumpano. “It also aids in regular bowel movements, which can support weight loss and management.”

So, what about the claim that it’s just as good as weight-loss drugs like Ozempic?

“We don’t have any clinical trials that compared the two, but psyllium husk can support weight loss but not to the extent of a medication has potential to,” clarifies Zumpano. “They work differently in the body.”

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Is psyllium husk safe?

Psyllium husk is considered very safe, reassures Zumpano.

So, how much psyllium husk per day should you use?

“Start at a small dose, about 1 teaspoon, and increase slowly,” she advises. “And make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.”

You can advance to taking 1 tablespoon three times per day, with the goal of having soft-formed stool bowel movements one to two times a day.

But Zumpano warns that people with a sensitive GI system should proceed with caution. While safe, you may experience some psyllium husk side effects like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation.
  • Nausea.
  • Gas.
  • Bloating.
  • Stomach pain and/or cramping.

Zumpano says it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a supplement like psyllium husk. And know that supplements and vitamins aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so you want to do your homework and research before buying a specific brand. Look for options that have been tested by third-party organizations like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International.

Bottom line?

Zumpano recommends giving psyllium husk a try, especially if you have constipation, are looking to manage your diabetes or lower your cholesterol.

And when it comes to psyllium husk and weight loss, know that it’s not a magic ingredient.

But using psyllium husk to make sure you have enough fiber in your diet can be a good move.

“Fiber in general is very helpful for overall health,” she says. “And this is a great way to increase your overall fiber intake.”

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