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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.


bulletIrritable bowel syndrome
bulletCrohn's disease
bulletHigh cholesterol (Psyllium helps prevent the colon from absorbing cholesterol.)
bulletColon cancer and some other cancers, and diseases of the colon
bulletObesity (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.)
bulletHypertension and heart disease (High-fiber foods help reduce heart disease risk.)


Dietary Sources


bulletPsyllium seed or husk
bulletCombination 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 lower lithium levels in the blood. This may alter the effectiveness of the lithium. Consult your health care provider before using psyllium with lithium.

In general, taking psyllium with other medications may reduce or delay the absorption of these medications.

Supporting Research

Alabaster O, Tang ZC, Frost A, Sivapurkar N. Potential synergism between wheat brain and psyllium: enhanced inhibition of colon cancer. Cancer Lett. 1993;75:5358.

Ashraf W, Park F, Lof J, Quigley EM. Effects of psyllium therapy on stool characteristics, colon transit and anorectal function in chronic idiopathic constipation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1995;9:639647.

Balch J, Balch P. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2nd ed. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group; 1997.

Fernandez-Banares F, Hinojosa J, Sanchez-Lombrana JL, et al. Randomized clinical trials of Platago ovata seeds (dietary fiber) as compared with mesalaminein maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis. Am J Gastroenterol. 1999;94:427433.

Giller R, Matthews K. Natural Prescriptions. New York, NY: Carol Southern Books; 1994.

Kirschmann G, Kirschman J. Nutrition Almanac. 4th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1996.

McRorie JW, Daggy BP, Morel JG, Diersing PS, Miner PB, Robinson M. Psyllium is superior to docusate sodium for treatment of chronic constipation. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1998;12:491497.

Moss R. Cancer Therapy. Brooklyn, NY: Equinox Press, Inc.; 1992.

Murray M. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing; 1996.

Perlmann BB. Interaction between lithium salts and ispaghula husk. Lancet. 1990;17:335:416.

The Review of Natural Products. St. Louis, Mo: Facts and Comparisons; 1998.

Rodrigues-Moran M, Guerrero-Romero F, Lazcano-Burciaga G. Lipid- and glucose-lowering efficacy of Plantago Psyllium in type II diabetes. J Diabetes Complications. 1998;12:273278.

Toutoungi M, Schulz P, Widmer J, et al. Probable interaction of psyllium and lithium. Therapie. 1990;45(4):358-360.

Copyright 2000 Integrative Medicine Communications

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein