There has been a lot of speculation about whether psyllium husk provides the beneficial effects of a prebiotic; that is, whether it stimulates and feeds the good bacteria in the digestive tract. Researchers have conducted a number of studies regarding the question and have definitively proven that psyllium husk can indeed be considered a prebiotic.
What Is Psyllium?
Psyllium, also called ispaghula, is a fiber made from the seed husks of the plant Plantago Ovata. It’s most often used as a laxative, but research has discovered it also has benefits to the heart and pancreas. Psyllium absorbs water and stimulates healthy bacteria, so it can significantly help with both constipation and diarrhea.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are fibers that are fermented by the gut’s microflora when they reach the colon. They are non-digestible food ingredients that can’t be broken down inside the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract, but only upon their arrival to the colon. They are actually food for the natural good bacteria in the body.
Psyllium as a Prebiotic
If you encounter a list of all the prebiotics out there, you don’t often see psyllium included in the list. That’s because it ferments much more slowly than any other prebiotic.
There have been studies demonstrating that, when combined with probiotics and synbiotics (products containing both prebiotics and probiotics), psyllium’s effectiveness is considerably increased. Not only can it regulate bowel movements and improve gut health, but it can also help treat inflammatory bowel disease.
Apart from these benefits, psyllium husk can effectively reduce cholesterol and lower blood glucose levels, as well as reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Many people may in fact be using psyllium without realizing it. It’s one of the major ingredients in products like Metamucil and Fiberall.
Do be aware that psyllium is not the best possible source when it comes to prebiotics, and overuse can lead to abdominal cramping and other digestive changes, such as more frequent bowel movements, and diarrhea in extreme cases.