Whether blond, pink, brown or black, psyllium belongs to the Plantaginaceae family such as the lanceolate plantain or the large plantain, two famous medicinal plants.
The blond or pink psyllium (Plantago ovata Forssk.), referred to as "Ispaghul", is native of India and the Middle East. While brown or black psyllium (Plantago afra L.), commonly called "Plantain de Provence" or "Flea Grass", is grown all around the Mediterranean basin.

A bit of history

The consumption of the small seeds of psyllium is since time immemorial. In ancient times, Egyptian doctors used them as a laxative or anti-inflammatory for urinary tract. In India and China, they treated various ailments such as diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids or hypertension. In the Middle Ages, Hildegarde de Bingen, a German nun and doctor of the Church, gave psyllium to the patients in order to regulate their digestive transit. Nowadays, they are still recommended to prevent or alleviate many ailments.

The therapeutic properties of psyllium

Psyllium seed powder, orally, is indicated in the treatment of occasional or chronic constipation. It is also recommended in cases of hypercholesterolemia and hyperglycemia (type 2 diabetes) because it lowers cholesterol and glucose levels in the blood.
The psyllium has everything of a beautiful "normalizing" plant! It regulates the transit, absorbs water in the intestinal wall in case of constipation but also that contained in the stools in case of diarrhea. It has an action on certain biological constants and limits its physiological impact. Several clinical studies show that psyllium decreases blood pressure for hypertensive and overweight persons. It is therefore interesting to take psyllium in prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Today, many chronic inflammatory diseases affect the digestive system, including the intestine and the colon, resulting in a painful and challenging set of symptoms. Psyllium is recommended for patients with irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis.
In addition to a healthy and balanced diet, it is a key ally to slimming diet. Its ability to create "mucilaginous gel" in contact with water induces a sensation of satiety without bringing in calories.
Locally, psyllium gel, applied to the skin or scalp, relieves itching, irritation and minor burns. It allows the healing of small skin lesions. It is also recommended, in cosmetology, in order to unify the skin complexion and to reduce facial redness.

The active ingredients of psyllium

In phytotherapy, the parts used in psyllium are the seed and its envelope (tegument). They are rich in soluble fiber (mucilages) but also contain insoluble fibers (cellulose, lignin). Fibers can not be digested by human; after ingestion, they remain little degraded in the digestive tract where they have very specific activities.
Soluble fibers reduce blood levels of cholesterol and sugar by decreasing their absorption. They regulate transit and soften the consistency of the stool. They are prebiotics which means that they serve as "food" for the intestinal flora or microbiota.
The insoluble fibers have a strong affinity with water in which they are not soluble. When in contact with water, they swell and act as a laxative ballast (constipation) or absorb stool water (diarrhea). Their consumption would be interesting in the prevention of some cancers of the digestive tract.

Psyllium and International Health Authorities

Commission E (German Scientific Advisory Board) recognizes the use of psyllium to treat chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. It recommends psyllium to facilitate the transit and soften the stools in case of pregnancy, hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
ESCOP (European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy) recommends it to treat chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome but also hypercholesterolemia.
The WHO (World Health Organization) adds to all these indications the reduction of blood sugar and the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
The same applies in Denmark with the Danish Medicines Agency, in the USA with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in Canada.

Precautions for use of psyllium

As a precaution, it is recommended to consume psyllium away from taking medicines (delay of at least 2 hours) and to drink, simultaneously, a large glass of water.
Contrarily to natural laxatives containing anthracene derivatives such as senna, buckthorn or cascara, psyllium is not irritating to the mucous membranes. It can be recommended to children and pregnant women with a suitable dosage.
Medical advice is strongly recommended for all patients with allergies, diabetes, asthmatics and those taking statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs). It is contraindicated in case of narrowing (stenosis) or obstruction (occlusion, fecaloma) of the digestive tract.

Pascale Gélis Imbert

Photo Pascale IMBERT
Pascale Gélis Imbert holds a Ph.D in Pharmacy specialized in phytotherapy and aromatherapy for over 20 years. She is a teacher, member of the scientific committee of the Observatory of Non-Conventional Medicines at the Faculty of Medicine of Nice, expert for companies and author of books on plants and essential oils. Her website: http://www.epiphyt.com/