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Psyllium Fiber

[Historical Applications | How Psyllium Works in the Intestinal Tract
[Scientific Research | How to Use Psyllium]

Fiber has demonstrated an ability to increase intestinal bulk, prevent colon cancer, help in the treatment of diverticulosis, assist with weight loss, cleansing and constipation as well as having cholesterol lowering activity. Psyllium is a natural fiber grain, not related to wheat, that yields 60 to 70 percent soluble fiber, eight times that of oat bran. Soluble fiber adds bulk to the stomach and absorbs water to form a gel-like substance which produces softer stools. The species of Psyllium generally used in the U.S. is Plantago Ovata, also known as Blond Psyllium and comes from India.

The husk of Psyllium is the actual coating of mucilage around the seed. It is considered pure dietary fiber and is the only part of the plant used in manufacturing Psyllium products. Its nutritional value consists mainly of glycosides, proteins, polysaccharides, vitamin B1, and choline. The seed itself is made up of 40% Linoleic Acid (LA), an important fatty acid essential to health. The husk is composed mostly of a fiber called hemicellulose which is a complex carbohydrate found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Hemicellulose is undigestible, however, it is partially broken down in the colon and feeds the friendly intestinal flora.

Historical Applications

In India, Psyllium has long been known for its healing properties and traditional uses.  Time-honored grandmother’s Psyllium remedies” for constipation and many other ailments have existed for thousands of years.

Psyllium’s anti-inflammatory activity is helpful with gastric ulcers and its binding properties are useful with treatments for diarrhea, hemorrhoids and cystitis, Cystitis can sometimes be caused by fecal bacteria from diarrhea that migrates up to the urethra. Psyllium is useful during diarrhea because of its binding qualities and its ability to restore normal bowel move­ments. Psyllium can also relieve chronic constipation with habitual straining, that can often lead to hemorrhoids. Intestinal spasms may be relieved by the anti-spasmodic property of Psyllium.

Mixing Psyllium with milk and tumeric to make a poultice for minor scrapes is considered standard practice in India.  Psyllium is known to soothe and protect inflamed cell membranes.

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How Psyllium Works in the Intestinal Tract

Psyllium helps to absorb toxins in the colon by creating a spongy, gelatinous mass in the bowels. By swelling about 35 to 50 times its size and absorbing water, it breaks down and moves toxic waste matter stuck in the folds and crevices of the bowel. The intestines require an adequate amount of bulk in order for peristalsis to occur. This spongy effect stimulates peristalsis, the rhyth­mic muscular contractions in the bowel that are responsible for the evacuation process. Through this process, harmful bacteria that survives on human waste passes through the intestines and is eliminated.

Psyllium has had a long tradition of use as a bulking and lubricating agent for the digestive system. Barring any serious medical condition, the primary cause of constipation is lack of roughage, bulk or fiber. Psyllium is approved in the U.S. as an over the counter (OTC) supplement and bulk laxative. Depending on the individual, as little as one teaspoon of Psyllium a day can promote regularity. However, results may not take place for 3 or more days. Psyllium husk soothes the ling of the bowel and should not be compared to an insoluble fiber such as wheat bran and oat bran, where irritation and allergic reactions are often present. As an excellent source of fiber, Psyllium puts no strain on nerve reflexes, does not damage bowel tone and is safe for long term use.

Scientific Research

Colon cancer is on the rise in the U.S. and the American Cancer Institute recommends eating 20-35 grams of fiber a day. The body's immune response is a complex defense system that fights off harmful bacteria and viruses. Poor elimination can cause toxic buildup from accumulated waste and metabolic byprod­ucts and weaken the immune system, paving the way for illness. When the colon is clean and healthy, it provides the body with proper support for a strong response against invading pathogens.

Increased dietary fiber appears to have thera­peutic advantages for people with diabetes. Dr. James Anderson at the University of Kentucky first created the high carbohydrate, high fiber diet (HCF) in 1974 and reported the results to be impressive in individuals with diabetes. According to a report by the American Diabetic Association, fiber improves the control of blood glucose concentration, delays glucose absorption, decreases blood pressure and serum cholesterol and reduces insulin requirements.

Coronary heart Disease (CHD) has been linked to elevated blood cholesterol levels. Recent scientific research has revealed the important role Psyllium plays in the diet to reduce "bad" cholesterol or LDL (low-density lipoproteins), while having no significant effect on the HDL (high-density lipoproteins) or "good" cholesterol. Three independent studies from the University of Kentucky, George Washington University and the University of Massachusetts presented some dramatic results. Low-fat diets which included Psyllium had a greater cholesterol-lowering effect than low fat diets without Psyllium.

In 1997, The FDA approved an amendment to the health claim that allows the association between a soluble fiber in the diet and lowering the risk of coronary heart disease. The new amendment adds Psyllium husk to the sources of soluble fiber allowed to carry the claim for this nutrient-disease relationship. The FDA acknowledged the proper­ties of Psyllium husk as another soluble fiber that could affect blood lipids and lower the risk of Coronary Heart Disease.

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How To Use Psyllium

Psyllium husk should be mixed with 8-16 ounces of juice or water and consumed immediately to avoid any unnecessary thickening and bulking before swallowing.  It can be taken just before meals or in between meals. Because of its ability to absorb fluids in the intestine, while using Psyllium, drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day.

Psyllium can also be used by manufacturers as a thickener in cooking sauces, soups, ice cream and smoothies. It can be used in baked goods as a low calorie source of fiber and in ice creams and sherbets as a natural stabilizer.

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Reprinted with the exclusive permission of Health Plus, Inc.

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