Supplements: Psyllium

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Psyllium is a soluble fiber used primarily as a gentle bulk laxative. It comes from a shrublike herb called plantain that grows worldwide. There are many species of plantain that can produce up to 15,000 tiny, mucilage-coated seeds per plant. The plantain herb that produces psyllium seed is not the same plant as edible plantains.

The seeds are odorless and have almost no taste. Psyllium makes stools softer, which helps relieve constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, and other intestinal problems. Its ability to speed waste matter through the digestive system helps reduce the risk of colon cancer and other intestinal diseases by shortening the amount of time toxins stay in the body. Unlike wheat bran and some other fiber supplements, psyllium does not cause excessive gas and bloating.


Here is a partial list of the health problems psyllium helps relieve.

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Crohn's disease
  • High cholesterol (Psyllium helps prevent the colon from absorbing cholesterol.)
  • Colon cancer and some other cancers, and diseases of the colon
  • Obesity (Adding fiber to the diet aids weight reduction even if calories are not restricted; soluble fibers such as psyllium help dieters feel full so they eat less.
  • Psyllium also helps control blood sugar and insulin, which is important to overweight people as well as to people who have diabetes.)
  • Hypertension and heart disease (High-fiber foods help reduce heart disease risk.)

Dietary Sources

Psyllium seed or husk Combination fiber remedies that include psyllium, such as Metamucil

Other Forms

Standard preparations of psyllium are available in dry seed or husk form, to be mixed with water as needed. Psyllium is an ingredient in some commercially prepared laxatives such as Metamucil. Psyllium is added to some cereals to increase fiber content.

How to Take It

Add 1/2 to 2 tsp. of psyllium seed to 1 cup (8 oz.) of warm water. Mix well, then drink immediately before it becomes too thick to swallow comfortably. (Psyllium thickens rapidly when water is added to it.) If you're using a commercial product that contains psyllium, follow package directions.

If you're not accustomed to taking psyllium, start with a low dose, such as 1 tsp. in an 8-oz. glass of water once a day, then increase to 2 tsps. and two 8-oz. glasses of water per day, as needed.

Your health care provider may recommend higher doses of psyllium to treat certain conditions. For example, a recommended program for irritable bowel syndrome is to start with 1/2 or 1 tsp. of psyllium in one glass of water each day, then gradually increase by adding a little more psyllium every third or fourth day until you're taking a total of four doses, each consisting of 1 tsp. of psyllium to an 8-oz. glass of water, a day.

It is very important to make sure you drink plenty of water when you take psyllium or any fiber supplement because fiber soaks up water from your digestive system. If you don't take in extra water to make up for that effect, fiber supplements can cause blockage or constipation. Be sure to drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day.

Take psyllium first thing in the morning or before bedtime. As a weight-loss aid, take at least 30 minutes before meals.

As with all medicines and supplements, check with a health care provider before giving psyllium to a child.


Don't take psyllium within an hour of the time you take other medications because it can interfere with how the drugs is absorbed and may make the medication less effective. Allow at least one hour between the time you take medicines or drugs and the time you take psyllium.

Always take psyllium with a full 8-oz. glass of water, and be sure to drink at least six to eight full glasses of water during the day.

Do not take guar, another fiber supplement that works the same way psyllium does, if you're taking psyllium. You can use one or the other, but don't use both at the same time.

Possible Interactions

Psyllium may block absorption or reduce the effectiveness of prescription and nonprescription medicines. It may also alter the way your body uses or absorbs minerals, so check with your health care provider if you suspect you have a mineral deficiency.

For more information about psyllium, consult your health care provider.

This document contains information relating to general principles of medical care that should not in any event be construed as specific instructions for individual patients. The reader is advised to check product information (including package inserts) for changes and new information regarding dosage, precautions, and contraindications before administering any drug. No claim or endorsements are made for any drug or compound currently in investigative use. No responsibility is assumed by the publisher for any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise, or from any use or operation of any methods, products, instructions, or ideas contained in any material herein.

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Dietary supplements are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease or illness, and the information regarding these products has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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Previously Published in OSA Today Reproduced by permission
Updated on: 02/01/10