Herbal Meds

Psyllium, an herbal source of fiber

Psyllium seeds are so rich in fiber that it has been prescribed for constipation and other digestive complaints for almost 500 years.  During the Middle Ages in Europe, Arab physicians sold a constipation remedy called diagridium and psyllium was one of the main ingredients.

The small, reddish seeds are nearly odourless and tasteless and come from the Plantago psyllium plant.  Another name for the psyllium plant is plantain, but is should not be confused with the edible banana-like fruit of the same name or the herb plantain.

Plantago is grown commercially in Spain, France, India and other countries.  Various species of this plant is used in herbal medicine, but the most commonly used are the seeds of the Plantago psyllium plant and P. ovata.  The seeds are generally dried, ground and sold in a powder form and are sometimes added to breakfast cereals.

The fibrous husk of psyllium seeds form a gel like mass when mixed with water that then absorbs excess water from the intestines and creates, larger, softer stools.  Psyllium also helps to lower cholesterol by binding to cholesterol-rich bile, drawing cholesterol from your bloodstream.  This kind of water-soluble fiber is suitable for people who do not eat a diet high in fiber.

In 1998, the US Food and Drug Administration allowed breakfast cereals to claim that it can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol.  To be able to state this claim, breakfast cereals had to contain at least 1,7 g of soluble fiber from psyllium per serving.  

Psyllium can assist with a wide variety of disorders such as constipation, diarrea, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis and haemorrhoids.  This herbal medicine works by absorbing water makes larger stools.  If you suffer from constipation, the added water will soften stools, making it easier to pass.  This is helpful to reduce the irritation experienced by people who have haemorrhoids.  

By speeding up the passing of stools through the intestine, psyllium is beneficial to people who suffer from diverticular disease.  This disease causes faecal particles to become trapped in small pockets in the intestine's lining, causing infection and pain.  

Psyllium's ability to absorb excess water from loose stools makes it an ideal treatment for diarrea.

Only in the 1980's did scientists discover another benefit of this herbal medicine:  it lowers blood cholesterol levels, especially the bad cholesterol (LDL) that can lead to heart disease.  By simply adding psyllium to a low-fat diet, you can significantly reduce cholesterol levels, eliminating the need for prescription medications.

Weight-loss programmes recommend the addition of psyllium to a low-fat diet.  By absorbing water, it fills your stomach and provides a sense of fullness, causing you to eat less. This herbal supplement also delays the emptying of food from your stomach, making you feel full for longer.  In a small British study, women who took a psyllium supplement with water three hours before a meal, absorbed less fat and less kilojoules from food.  Psyllium also stabilizes blood sugar levels, thereby controlling food cravings.

What are the side effects of Psyllium?

Please consult your medical practitioner prior to using any herbal medications should you be under their care.

Psyllium supplements can temporarily cause bloating and flatulence because it supplies fiber.  You can avoid these unpleasant side effects by slowly increasing your psyllium intake over a period of several days.  

Do not take doses higher than recommend as this can cause certain minerals not to be absorbed by your body.

Should you experience difficulty breathing or swallowing after taking psyllium herbal supplements, seek medical attention immediately as you may be allergic to psyllium.

How do I take Psyllium?

The recommended dosage is one to three tablespoons of psyllium powder two to three times a day.  Do not exceed 30 g a day.

It usually takes 12 to 24 hours to get relief from constipation and sometimes can take as long as three days.  Ensure that you take psyllium supplements with plenty of water. Dissolve psyllium powder in a glass of water and then drink another glass of water immediately after.  

Do not take any other medications with psyllium herbal supplements as this can delay the medications from being absorbed.  

If you are pregnant and suffering from constipation, consult your medical practitioner before taking psyllium supplements.

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