Most people may not realize that psyllium is a type of herb that is generally considered to be a weed, namely plantain (Plantago major). [For another use for plantain, see: Treating Poison Ivy with Herbs.] Psyllium (P. psyllium, P. ovata) is actually an excellent source of soluble fiber, and many clinical trials have shown that this herb can be quite effective in treating a variety of ailments. Psyllium is a low-growing annual native to India and Iran.
The plant has downy leaves, globular flowers, and shiny seeds. The seeds are used in treatments, as well as the seed husks. The seeds and husks make a good bulk laxative. For this reason, psyllium is frequently used to treat chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. It has also been used as a stool softener for people recovering from anal/rectal surgery or for those suffering from hemorrhoids.
As a source of water-soluble fiber, psyllium is also used to lower cholesterol levels. The fiber in psyllium forms a gel in the bowel that traps and absorbs the cholesterol resulting in its expulsion from the body. It has been shown that psyllium, combined with a low-fat diet, can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels while not simultaneously lowering HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Some studies also indicate that people suffering from type 2 diabetes might benefit from psyllium. Psyllium, it seems, can help regulate glucose levels and insulin production, especially after meals. (If you are diabetic, do not take psyllium without first consulting your physician.)
Finally, psyllium is often used in conjunction with weight-loss programs. The extra fiber improves the body’s ability to eliminate waste and is particularly beneficial for people who are on the Atkins Diet which is not known for including a lot of fiber in the dieter’s food plan. Psyllium also has the advantage of not causing the nervousness that many diet supplements containing ephedra do.
Psyllium may impair the absorption of other medications; therefore, you should wait about two hours after taking prescribed medications before taking psyllium. You should also make sure that you drink plenty of water when you take psyllium. (Some people have even been known to choke on the powdered form of psyllium when they have neglected to ingest sufficient water.) In addition, if you have any diagnosed intestinal problems, you should definitely not take any psyllium without first consulting with your primary healthcare professional.