Can Psyllium Husk Help With Weight Loss?

psyllium seed husks
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One popular remedy for weight loss is psyllium (Plantago ovata), a plant that produces seed husks that are rich in soluble fiber (one of the two main types of dietary fiber). The type of soluble fiber in psyllium is known as mucilage. When it is mixed with water, it thickens to a gel.

You've probably seen psyllium at your local drugstore in the laxative aisle. When psyllium is in your intestines, it soaks up water, softens stools and makes them easier to pass.

Reasons People Take Psyllium for Weight Loss

Found in foods like flaxseeds and legumes, soluble fiber is thought to aid in blood sugar control and help lower cholesterol. In addition, psyllium fiber is said to suppress appetite. It expands to form a gel-like substance in the gut, which may help you feel fuller for longer and promote weight loss.

Psyllium fiber is also used to relieve constipation, improve symptoms of some types of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), firm up loose stools and diarrhea, and regulate blood sugar in people with diabetes. Due to its ability to promote bowel regularity, psyllium is also said to cleanse the colon.

In the United States, the recommended daily fiber intake is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women under 50. If you're over 50, the recommendations are 30 grams for men and 21 grams for women. Most adults consume 15 grams or less a day.

Psyllium is a relatively inexpensive, readily available source of fiber. One teaspoon of psyllium husks has about three grams of fiber.

Does Psyllium Really Help With Weight Loss?

By forming a thick gel in your stomach, psyllium may enhance fullness (and, in turn, discourage overeating). So far, however, studies on psyllium's effects on appetite and weight have yielded mixed results. Here's a look at a few findings from the available research on psyllium and weight loss.

In a study published in Appetite in 2016, psyllium taken before breakfast and lunch for three days resulted in less hunger and increased fullness between meals compared to a placebo. Of the doses tested (3.4, 6.8, and 10.2g), the 6.8g dose provided more consistent satiety benefits over the placebo.

Another 2016 study (published in Nutrition Journal) found that people with type 2 diabetes who took 10.5 grams of psyllium daily for eight weeks had a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to those who ate their regular diet for eight weeks. Additionally, fasting blood sugar, insulin, and other blood markers improved after psyllium supplementation.

A study published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2016, however, found that 12 weeks of psyllium supplementation had no effect on weight or body mass index (BMI) in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Possible Side Effects

Although psyllium is generally considered safe when used as recommended, it may trigger certain side effects such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea.

Although rare, some people do have allergic reactions. Call your doctor right away if you experience unusual symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Itchiness
  • Stomach pain

It's best to start with a low dose and slowly increase the amount you take over one to two weeks until you reach the recommended dosage. Mix it well with the recommended amount of water (typically, one teaspoon is mixed with eight ounces of fluids).

Staying hydrated helps to keep stool soft and makes bowel movements easier to pass. Taking psyllium with insufficient fluids or in large doses is a choking hazard and also may lead to bowel obstruction. If your constipation worsens while you are taking psyllium, stop taking it and speak with your doctor.

Psyllium shouldn't be taken by people with acute stomach problems (like appendicitis), bowel obstructions or spasms, difficulty swallowing, colorectal adenoma, or a narrowing or obstruction anywhere in the digestive tract. People with kidney disease and those who are taking certain medications may not be able to take psyllium supplements.

The Takeaway

While upping your soluble fiber intake from foods like dried beans and peas, flaxseeds, oats, fruits, and vegetables may help keep you fuller for longer, there currently isn't enough evidence to recommend psyllium solely as a weight loss aid.

If you have difficulty getting enough fiber from food or have health concerns that might be helped by boosting your soluble fiber intake, adding some psyllium to your diet may be beneficial. If you're considering trying it though, it's a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider first to discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

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