Plants have played and will continue to play significant roles towards influencing the upkeep of human beings. They have also become a mainstay in pharmaceutical discoveries and creation of drugs for human utilizations. Moreover, these past years have recorded an increase in the number of new drugs that have positively contributed to the well-being of human beings and much more are yet to be discovered. One of such important plants is Plantago.
Plantago belongs to the family of Plantaginaceae and is commonly known as isabgol, psyllium, Spanish psyllium, Indian plantago, black psyllium, blonde psyllium, ispaghol, French psyllium or ispaghula. The term isabgol is deduced from 2 Persian terms “isap” and “ghol” and this connotes “a horse ear”, which is as a result of the unique shape of its seed.
Psyllium is a combination of neutral and acid polysaccharides with galacturonic acid. It is notable for its high dietary fibre that is effective for relieving the symptoms of mild diarrhoea and constipation. Plantago is made up of approximately 200 species that include both sub-shrubs and herbs, which thrive mainly in the temperate parts of the world and few tropical regions.
Among the numerous species of Plantago, Plantago ovata is the most valuable one due to its seeds that are used mostly for mucilage production. The husks are the outer skin of the Plantago seeds and are usually eradicated through a mechanical process. Psyllium is an annual herb that thrives well in a dry, cool weather especially between 15 to 30 °Centigrade.
The plant grows from 30 to 46 centimetres height while the leaves grow opposite each other in a straight form between 1 centimetre and 19 centimetres.
The fibrous well-developed roots support the flowering shoots that sprout from the bottom of the plant. The seeds are encapsulated in the long membranous fruits while the seeds tend to burst open once matured.
The plant bears many small, whitish flowers with spikes that change to reddish brown once ripe. Psyllium seed is an excellent source of protein, tannin, sterols, aucubin glycoside, fixed oils and more than 30 percent of mucilage (hydrocolloidal polysaccharide). The mucilage is from the seed epidermis that comprises of polyhedral cells with walls and these are thickened through a secondary deposit.
The mucilage is the main source of the dietary fibers from psyllium, which have been beneficial to humanity in several ways such as; regulation of blood glucose level, improved weight, reduction of serum lipid levels in hyperlipidemics, immune booster, reduction of cardiovascular diseases, promotion of colonic and abdominal health and healthy food supplement.
Some distinguishing features of psyllium include; viscosity (sticky, thick and semi-fluid in consistency), solubility (ability to dissolve) and fermentability (being fermentable). Psyllium can be consumed either in a granule, liquid, capsule, or powder form depending on the manufacturer or the brand names. Some common psyllium brand names include; Lunelax, Metamucil, Konsyl and Fybogel.
It is also worthy to note that psyllium is the key ingredient in most non-prescription laxatives such as; Uni-Laxative, Cilium, Metamucil, Maalox Daily Fiber Therapy and Fiberall. Due to the thick mucilaginous fibre nature of psyllium, it is highly recommended to drink plenty of water while taking it in other to avoid choking and possible avoidable side effects.
10 Magnificent Benefits of Psyllium
Due to the high mucilaginous nature of psyllium, it can serve as a food thickener in soup, dessert, confectionery, desserts and ice cream. Psyllium is used for enriching foods such as pasta, bread, snacks and cereals.
Medicinal Uses of Psyllium
According to Tewari et al., (2014), the psyllium seed is diuretic in nature and can be effective for use in febrile illnesses (fever), management of urethra, kidney and bladder condition, treatment of cold and cough, effective for rheumatic and glandular swellings, useful as a poultice on boils and effective for tackling ulcers.
Prevention and Treatment of Bowel Diseases
Dietary fibre is notable for its ability to enhance bowel movement by increasing the colonic contents thereby stimulating expulsion. The partially fermented and unfermented fibre, as well as the moisture contents, tend to lead to an increased stool mass.
Wärnberg et al., (2009) recorded that psyllium has a long history of use as a dietary fibre supplement. Psyllium is mainly used as a bulk-forming laxative to facilitate the regulation of large bowel function however, it cannot be absorbed by the small intestine. It also has the tendency to treat and prevent bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, mild diarrhoea, colon cancer and diverticulosis.
Several studies have applauded the effectiveness of psyllium in reducing the human cholesterol levels. According to Anderson et al., (2000), soluble fibres such as those from psyllium husk promote the cholesterol-lowering effects of a low-fat diet especially in individuals with hypercholesterolemia. These researchers conducted a study to rightly establish the hypolipidemic effects and safety of psyllium, especially when used for treating low-fat diet patients with hypercholesterolemia. The results showed that consumption of psyllium significantly reduced both the serum total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein in individuals on a low-fat diet.
Improves Glucose Homeostasis
Obesity, insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance have become a major concern in the society today. According to Moreno et al., (2003), certain dietary contents such as low glycemic index (G.I) foods and dietary fibre are essential for improving glucose homoeostasis. These researchers examined the effectiveness of psyllium in the management of obese children and adolescents with abnormalities of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.
The subjects diets were supplemented with psyllium, after which a percentage change in the postprandial glucose in type 2 diabetes patients and reduction in the LDL-cholesterol serum concentrations, HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides were recorded. As a result, they supported that psyllium is suitable for improving the glucose homoeostasis as well as the lipid and lipoprotein profile of individuals. These researchers further recommended that adding psyllium to the diets of diabetic and hypercholesterolemia (excessive cholesterol in the bloodstream) patients is safe, well tolerated and can improve the glycemic index. Here are other medicinal plants and herbs for treating diabetes.
Improvement of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Risks
Solà et al., (2010) evaluated the effectiveness of soluble fibre Plantago ovata (Po)-husk towards improving cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk biomarkers including low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). The results showed that psyllium is suitable for tackling CVD risk factors (metabolic syndrome) and for reducing lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C).
According to Brum et al., (2016), psyllium is useful for controlling hunger, especially between meals. These researchers investigated the effects of psyllium (Metamucil) on satiety by using both a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over study design. The first study examined the impacts of 3.4 g, 6.8 g, and 10.2 g of psyllium consumed before breakfast and lunch for a period of three days.
The second study examined the impacts of 6.8 g (taken before breakfast and lunch on Days 1 and 2 and before breakfast on Day 3) on the satiety of study participants that are on an energy restricted meal in the morning (breakfast) for 3 days. The efficacy endpoints were mean inter-meal hunger, desire to eat, and Satiety Labelled Intensity Magnitude Visual Analog Scale scores.
In the first study, all the three psyllium doses led to a statistically significant mean reduction in hunger and desire to eat as well as increased fullness between meals as compared to the placebo, with both higher doses better than placebo or 3.4 g. Also, the 6.8 g dose showed more consistent satiety benefits versus placebo.
In the second experiment, satiety was similarly measured with the first study with a significant reduction in the 3-day mean hunger and desire to eat. Besides, an increase in fullness for psyllium relative to placebo was observed. The results showed that psyllium supplementation can lead to high satiety and less hunger, especially between meals.
Slavin (2013) reported that higher consumption of dietary fibre is associated with lower body weights. Psyllium is an excellent source of dietary fibre thus considered effective for maintaining a healthy weight.
Wound Healing Properties
According to Westerhof et al., (2001), the mucopolysaccharides obtained from psyllium husk contain wound healing properties. These mucopolysaccharides can cleanse wounds and also inhibit scar formation. These researchers investigated the mechanisms involved such as; fluid absorption, bacterial adherence and in vitro stimulatory effects on macrophages, which are essential for wound healing. The results confirmed the strong ability of psyllium husk as a wound healing product.
Prevents Constipation and Hemorrhoid Anal Fissure in Pregnant Women
Hemorrhoidal disease and anal fissure have been reported as one of the prevailing clinical issues in women. Due to an increased constipation and abdominal pressure, pregnancy and delivery make certain women become susceptible to hemorrhoidal disease and fissure during pregnancy. Loder et al., (1994) reported that hemorrhoidal diseases may be caused as a result of a backflow of venous blood and increased abdominal pressure.
Constipation in pregnancy can be caused as a result of hormonal changes, change in diet, reduction in physical activities and a reduction in digestive system functioning. Also, the prevalence of anorectal diseases (hemorrhoidal diseases and anal fissure) and constipation in the third gestational period is possible. Therefore using therapeutic measures that won’t cause any potential side effects on both the patients and the fetus are clinically essential.
Ghahramani et al., (2013) attempted to determine the preventive impacts of psyllium powder (herbal laxative) on constipation, anal fissure and hemorrhoidal diseases during pregnancy. This was a randomized clinical trial whereby women between the ages of 20 to 30 years at the onset of 3rd trimester were divided into two groups. The treatment group received psyllium powder twice daily while the control group received placebo.
The entire cases were examined two times before delivery and the occurrence of constipation, fissure and haemorrhoid measured by a single team. The study showed that psyllium powder intake during the third trimester of pregnancy could significantly prevent constipation and haemorrhoid anal fissure.
Other Uses of Psyllium
Psyllium can be used for hair treatment and for preparing hair cosmetics. It can be used as a hydrocolloidal agent for improving water retention especially in newly seeded grass areas and for improving the transplantation of woody plants.
Side Effects of Psyllium
People taking psyllium should take it with caution as it can induce increased flatulence, anaphylactic symptoms, drug absorption, reduced nutrient intake due to suppressed appetite, or initiate abdominal pain. Rubira et al., (2000) reported that psyllium seeds used in the preparation of bulk laxatives could cause workers abdominal pain, rhinitis, anaphylaxis, wheezing, facial angioedema, bronchoconstriction, urticaria and occupational asthma.
This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnostic and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
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