As many as 22 per cent of Indian adults complain of constipation, and 13 per cent of these report chronic symptoms, as per a press release by Abbott India for its Gut Health Survey.
Constipation can be triggered due to multiple health reasons, including diabetes, hypothyroidism and anorectal disorders. It can also be caused due to irregular eating habits or unhealthy food. The condition can worsen among people who follow a sedentary lifestyle and indulge in less physical activity.
For this, psyllium husk, popularly known as isabgol, is a plant-based wonder food that can solve gut problems and improve your heart’s health, reduce weight, and help control diabetes.
Psyllium is a form of dietary fibre derived from the husk of plantago ovata seeds. A native of Persia, it was introduced to India and Pakistan by Indian Muslims as a medicinal plant and is currently widely cultivated in both countries, as well as some parts of Europe.
Researchers at the International Journal of Science and Research, in their report Psyllium (Plantago ovata) Husk: A Wonder Food for Good Health, state that the first crop cultivation of psyllium in the Indian sub-continent took place in Lahore and Multan in Pakistan. It later moved to Mysore (present-day Mysuru) in Karnataka, West Bengal and other Indian states.
Since then, India has played a significant role in its production, and is one of the key contributors of the plant in the world. The western state of Gujarat alone contributes to 35 per cent of the world’s production, the report stated.
Let us look at some health benefits of the plant.
Research papers indicate that psyllium is rich in mucilage and alimentary fibres. The mucilage found in psyllium husk is a transparent colourless gelling agent that possesses the capacity to absorb and hold water over 40 times its weight. The husk contains 55 per cent water-soluble fibre that hydrates in the bowel.
The gelatinous substance present in isabgol forms a gel after soaking the water. This gel contains laxative properties and helps ease bowel movements in the intestines, thus relieving constipation. In addition, it helps absorb harmful toxins and bacteria in the gut.
Isabgol is highly beneficial for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, fissures, haemorrhoids and other medical conditions related to the digestive system because of its ability to soften stools.
Keep high sugar levels in check
Psyllium proves useful for type-2 diabetes patients as they help break and absorb glucose in the body. Studies indicate that it also reduces the glucose intake in the body.
Research published in Nature on therapeutic effects of Psyllium in type-2 diabetic patients explains further that the fibre’s gel-forming abilities enable the regulation of blood glucose levels in the human body, as the fibre content binds the excess glucose.
Findings in Science Direct have proven that consuming 5 grams of psyllium husk twice a day can help control blood sugar.
Obesity and weight loss
Isabgol helps maintain weight as well. Dr Sheela Chakravarty, director, internal medicine at Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru, tells The Better India, “Obesity is associated with several health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. Obesity is caused mostly by a lack of satiety after eating. A high-fibre diet is one of the ways to achieve satiety.”
Similar to a role played in controlling diabetes, Isabgol’s ability to produce a gel-like substance in the stomach prevents nutrients from being absorbed quickly, making the person feel less hungry.
“The rapid absorption of food often makes a person hungry. A majority of researchers have discovered that adding 15 grams of fibre to your diet will reduce your calorie intake by 14 per cent, which means you can eat anything of your choice but in smaller portions. The fibre in your diet gives the satisfaction by eating less, stops an individual from overeating, and substantially reduces the calorie consumption,” Dr Sheela explains.
Moreover, the non-digestible fibre does not break and get absorbed in the body. Most fibre characteristics remain unchanged while passing through the digestive system. However, it increases the bulk and viscosity in the body, making a person feel filled and eat less.
Researchers at UBC and Curtin University suggest that consuming psyllium husk helps overcome diabetes and significantly reduce body weight, especially among children and adolescents.
For a healthy heart
The plant-based natural fibre can also prove exponentially beneficial in lowering harmful cholesterol levels in the body. An adequate amount of viscosity and gel-forming fibres can drop the levels significantly.
Psyllium regulates low cholesterol levels by increasing the demand for bile acid, a type of steroid acid formed by the liver. In the small intestine, psyllium absorbs water by mixing with water forming, a highly viscous gel. The gel intervenes with active assimilation of bile acids, which are captured and removed from the body via stool. The reduction in bile acid quantities stimulates the liver to synthesise more bile. Cholesterol, being a component of bile, triggers the liver to deliver LDL cholesterol, which it harvests from the blood, thereby reducing the proportion in the body.
The findings reveal that psyllium husk shows high efficacy among the high baseline cholesterol individuals. Consuming the nutrient for 12 weeks lowered the LDL between 6 per cent and 24 per cent, and total cholesterol up to 20 per cent.
Research also suggests that persons consuming fibre as a part of their diet have lower chances of cardiovascular disease.
Studies on various subjects have shown significant benefits in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
However, doctors suggest observing caution while taking this husk, and strictly advise consuming it in the right proportion.
Archana Batra, a Gurugram-based dietician, suggests consuming psyllium before a meal to achieve weight loss. “Start with half tablespoon of psyllium husk with warm water or milk. It works as a meal supplement too. However, inadequate amounts of drinking water on a high fibre diet or with psyllium can aggravate constipation issues,” she says, warning, “One can become habitual to isabgol.”
Dr Sheela adds, “Ideally, it is recommended to consume one to two (maximum) scoops of the husk for having the right amount of fibre to complement the diet. It will ensure that the user is not constipated and pass stools adequately with the right consistency, thereby allowing you to have the right appetite and weight loss, which will prevent health complications.”
Since psyllium husk is a laxative, it can stimulate side effects such as abdominal pain or cramps, diarrhoea, loose stools, and other allergic reactions such as itchiness, skin rashes, vomiting and breathing difficulties.
Edited by Divya Sethu