When stool turns dry and hard, it comes in the way of bowel movements. In such instances, you may often find it difficult to pass stools. There are multiple causes for hardening of stools and difficulties associated with elimination of solid waste from your body. A few key causes are inflammation of bowel, disorders in the pelvic region, irritability of bowels, etc. Foods rich in fiber are consumed to avoid hardening of stools as well as for the easy discharge of waste from the body. One such widely used fiber-based food is psyllium husk. Though it is commonly used in cereals made for breakfast, it is also used as a thickening agent in foods like desserts (especially frozen foods) such as ice cream, etc. It is widely considered as safe. But, knowing the likely side effects of psyllium husk can be quite helpful.

Seeds procured from a plant named Plantago (of the genre known as ovata) are the source of psyllium husk. This husk is made from seeds of this plant; it is cultivated in many parts of the world. This husk is derived by pounding the outer surface of seeds of psyllium. The husk contains a rare cellulose-based fiber. This fiber is soluble in water and can also bind easily. Once the husk comes in contact with fluids (like water), it grows in volume. Studies done on psyllium husk have observed that with the absorption of water, it grows more than 9-times the original mass.

This husk of psyllium seeds has several uses; chiefly, as a thickener of foods. The baking industry uses it to strengthen and add volume to baked foods such as cakes, breads, etc. Psyllium husk’s ability to attract water and grow in mass lends a denser composition to baked goods. You will be surprised to know that breads you regularly consume may also have psyllium husk; these breads owe their thickness to this husk. Not stopping with the baking industry, the husk is also used to thicken milkshakes, ice-cream as well as other desserts of the frozen kind. This husk is also sold as a supplement to control your blood sugar levels as well as to ease constipation related problems.

Uses of psyllium husk

A standard serving of about 8 to 9 grams (roughly, a tablespoon) contains nearly 6.50 grams of fiber in it. Each such serving also has nearly 25 milligrams (mg) of calcium and more than 10 mg of sodium. Its dense fiber content in the husk helps in easing elimination of solid waste (stools) from your body. It can make stools to gain water (i.e., bulk) and thus can increase the size of solid waste. These processes make it easy to discharge stool, and helps avoid constipation. Intake of psyllium husk is also known to promote bowel movements and increase the frequency of such movements. Its ability to soften stools makes it a better laxative than say, docusate-based drugs.

The husk is also found to decrease post-breakfast levels of blood glucose. As carbohydrates take a longer time to turn into sugars (glucose), the glycemic index remains at a fairly low level. The bulk-yielding property of psyllium husk makes it a catalyst to reduce body weight. There are a few studies done to evidence its ability to promote fullness and reduce frequent cravings for food. A few randomised data – based on some medical trials – indicate a likely reduction in blood pressure level, especially diastolic as well as systolic pressure levels. However, conclusive evidences of these benefits are not fully established as yet.

Side effects of psyllium husk

Psyllium husk can however trigger a few adverse side effects. Key among them is its ability to enhance the odds of intestinal blocks. These internal blocks are known to occur when you take psyllium frequently and in larger amounts. This condition can occur when your intestinal tract has a large amount of fibrous ingredients; such an accumulation may turn digestion into a laborious and difficult process. People who consume baked goods however need not worry too much about it; this adverse reaction is experienced only in very rare instances. In order to avoid such blocks, you may be advised to take a lot of water. A well-hydrated body may have the needful liquid content to handle a sudden increase in volume of psyllium husk.

Allergies and hypersensitivity associated with psyllium husk

It is a good practice to let your medical team know if you have any prior allergies or hypersensitivity. Some people may have unique allergies associated with psyllium husk. Medical studies establish a protein (found in psyllium seeds) as a possible allergen to trigger a few acute allergic reactions. In some truly one-off instances, a few people have developed difficulties to digest foods rich in psyllium husk. This is known to occur when such foods gain size when blended with water and choke your throat. Dietitians strongly recommend intake of ample amounts of water while eating foods. In several phases of controlled trials, respondents who took more than 160 milliliters (ml) of water were seen to avoid problems in swallowing foods containing psyllium husk.

Psyllium husk – as mentioned above – is known as a possible answer to constipation or to treat difficulties in the discharge of stools. In general, fiber sourced from vegetables and fruits are known to be more useful in resolving hardened stools than this husk. These conventional sources – i.e., vegetables and fruits that are rich in fiber – score high when compared to psyllium on multiple fronts – such as, consistency of easing stools, frequency of bowel movements, etc. In some studies done on caregivers, the husk is known to trigger occupational bronchitis or asthma in caregiving people. Caregivers who made husk-based medications to their patients were subject to risks of respiratory problems. These problems occurred from a likely closure of airways; such challenges had to be handled with several hours of nebulization or assisted breathing – at times, with the use of a ventilator.

Very rare side effects of psyllium husk

In very rare instances, a few people experienced skin conditions like rashes, itchiness and discoloration of skin. Such people tested positive for antibodies of psyllium. In equally stray instances, a few people experienced a marked decrease in lithium levels in blood. Once the intake of the husk is discontinued, the levels came back to a normal. Also, a few people who had strictures or swelling of their bowels developed internal blocks. These were observed mainly among people to whom it was administered as a contrasting agent while taking radiology tests – such as MRI, CT scans, etc.

Likely interactions of psyllium husk with other drugs

Lithium – as mentioned – may pose limitations in getting duly absorbed when you co-administer it with husk of psyllium. The husk may also influence the efficacy (through reduced absorption) of antidepressants of the tricyclic genre; drugs belonging to this category include imipramine, amitriptyline, doxepin, etc. Psyllium husk can also reduce the actions of anticonvulsant drugs or muscle relaxants like carbamazepine. Your also need to exert adequate caution while taking cholesterol medicines which work on bile acids; such drugs categorized under bile-acid sequestrating meds are colestipol, cholestyramine, etc. It is also likely to trigger adverse side effects if you are diabetic and are taking blood sugar or insulin regulating medications.

Psyllium husk is known for its interactions with drugs prescribed for the treatment of cardiac failure such as heart attacks or myocardial infarction. For example, drugs like digoxin is likely to witness reduced levels of absorption when taken with this husk.

Safe practices for the intake of psyllium husk to avoid or minimise side effects

In order to minimise the risks of possible side effects, the best way to take psyllium husk is in the form of a direct powder. Among all the options available, pure powder form of psyllium husk emerges as the safest choice. This powder is widely available through online pharmacies as well as supermarkets and grocery stores. The best way – according to several users – is to take a spoonful of this husk (i.e., in its powdered form) with water or along with your meals. This is believed to provide your daily need for fiber content. This group of users have also expressed their satisfaction with bowel movements and the frequency of these movements. In the same light, you also need to remember that most clinical studies and medical research done on the efficacy of psyllium husk is performed under many limitations – such as, sizes of samples, age groups of respondents, genders, etc. Hence, you are advised to take needful care and exert necessary caution while using husk of psyllium seeds.

Its dosage levels play a critical role in ensuring safer intake. Medical research has been done on the permissible levels, and recommendations are also available. In order to treat IBS – i.e., irritable bowel, the dose administered must not exceed 10 grams each day; this however may be given in one or two doses. When you are taking this husk as an extended treatment of diabetes (especially, type 2 form of this medical condition), it is recommended to divide the doses into two or three; a safer dosage level in this case is between 7 grams to 12 grams per day. But, always remember that such dosages are used only as an adjunctive treatment for type 2 form of diabetes.

People who use it to treat their cardiac conditions are advised to take it in the range of 9 to 10 grams every day. Your dietitian may inform that this dosage of psyllium husk transpires into 6 to 7 grams of fiber-dose per day. In case of hardened stools or problems such as difficulties to pass stools (constipation), the dosage level of psyllium husk ranges from 2 to 25 grams in a day. However, for younger adults and children, this dose is reduced in the range of 1 gram to 12 grams per day. Your treating doctor or dietitian will explain the need to divide the daily dose into miniature sub-doses in order to avoid several adverse side effects.

Above all, it is recommended to take psyllium husk in a quick manner, i.e., before it turns into a thickened mass in the throat. Another recommended approach is to consume it with foods that go well with thickening – such as breakfast cereals mixed in a drink (such as milk) or oatmeal, etc. The common side effects are choking, intestinal blocks as well as a reduced absorption of lithium as well as a few other drugs. You are hence advised to follow standard and safe levels of intake of this husk, after consulting a qualified medical practitioner as well as a dietitian.

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