Psyllium Husk for Weight Loss

psyllium seed husks on a rock surface

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Psyllium (Plantago ovata) is 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 husk is known as mucilage, and when it is mixed with water, it thickens to a gel.

Found in foods like flaxseeds and legumes, soluble fiber aids in blood sugar control and helps lower cholesterol. Psyllium fiber also suppresses appetite by forming a gel-like substance in the gut to help you feel fuller for longer, which may promote weight loss.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicates a daily fiber intake for adults under 50 of 25–28 grams for women and 31–34 grams for men. The daily amount decreases slightly with age. For older adults over 50, women should aim for 22 grams a day and men about 28 grams a day. But an estimated 90% of Americans do not meet the recommended daily fiber intake, with most adults getting only about 15 grams of fiber per day on average.

Psyllium husk is a relatively inexpensive, readily available source of fiber. One teaspoon of psyllium husks has about 3 grams of fiber.

How Psyllium Husk Works for Weight Loss

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, found in foods like oat bran, nuts, and legumes, draws water into the intestines to create a gel-like substance that slows digestion. Insoluble fiber, found in vegetables and whole grains, adds bulk to the intestines to allow foods to pass through the digestive system more quickly. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are equally important to overall health, disease prevention, and healthy digestion.

Soluble Fiber and Satiety

Psyllium husk is an insoluble fiber that promotes satiety by forming a thick gel in your stomach. This increases fullness, which in turn, helps to discourage overeating. However, research on the effects of psyllium husk and weight loss is somewhat mixed.

A 2016 study published in Appetite found that psyllium husk 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 10.2 grams), 6.8 grams provided the most consistent satiety benefits.

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

Weight Loss and Chronic Disease

But increased satiety is not the only benefit of adding more fiber to your diet. Studies show a link between gel-forming fibers and weight loss among populations with chronic diseases like metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

For instance, a study published in Nutrition Journal found that people with type 2 diabetes who took 10.5 grams of psyllium husk daily for eight weeks had a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to those who ate their regular diet. The researchers also noted an improvement in blood sugar following psyllium husk fiber supplementation.

Additionally, a 2017 review examined the effects of water-soluble gel-forming fibers like psyllium husk in the small intestine, noting positive health outcomes such as lowered cholesterol and improved insulin response in patients with metabolic syndrome. The authors suggested that gel-forming fibers may help facilitate weight loss as a result of improved metabolic health.

In 2019, a comprehensive review assessed the benefits of soluble fibers like psyllium husk by looking at nearly four decades worth of data. The authors suggested that in addition to promoting satiety, daily consumption of a soluble fiber product like psyllium husk can improve blood lipid profiles, lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, and improve glycemic response.

By improving risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, researchers concluded that psyllium husk "may augment the processes initiated by weight reduction diets," or in other words, promote weight loss.

Keep in mind that these studies included participants with chronic health conditions. When it comes to the potential weight loss benefits of psyllium husk for the general population, more large-scale, rigorous research is still needed.

Psyllium Husk Safety and Side Effects

If you're considering psyllium husk to supplement a weight loss program, talk to your doctor first. Depending on your current health status, gel-forming soluble fiber supplements may or may not be the best course of action for you. Regardless, you can always add more fiber to your diet with high-fiber foods that boost your overall nutrition.

Start with a low dose of psyllium husk and then slowly increase the amount over one to two weeks until you reach the recommended dosage. Mix psyllium husk fiber well with the recommended amount of water (typically, 1 teaspoon per 8 ounces of fluids). Staying hydrated helps to keep stool soft and makes bowel movements easier to pass.

Due to its ability to promote bowel regularity, psyllium husk fiber is also used to relieve constipation and soften stools, improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and firm up loose stools and diarrhea. It is generally considered safe when used as recommended, but it may trigger side effects such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea. And although it is 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

Psyllium husk 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 fiber supplements.

Taking psyllium husk with insufficient fluids or in large doses may cause bowel obstruction. If your constipation worsens while you are taking psyllium, stop taking it and speak with your doctor right away.

A Word From Verywell

If you are seeking to lose weight, remember that eating a balanced diet and making lifestyle changes like getting regular exercise, managing your stress, and practicing good sleep hygiene are all important factors. While increasing your intake of soluble fiber from foods may help you feel fuller for longer, there isn't enough evidence to recommend psyllium husk as a weight loss remedy on its own.

If you're concerned you're not getting enough fiber from food or have health issues that could be helped by boosting your intake of soluble fiber, psyllium fiber may be a beneficial addition to your diet. But talk with your healthcare provider first to discuss if it's right for you.

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