Psyllium husks are the seed husks of the herb plantago ovata. Because of their high-soluble fiber content, psyllium husks are most commonly used as a bulk-forming laxative. However, psyllium husks have many other benefits and research is ongoing.
Psyllium husks are most well-known for their benefits as bulk laxatives in popular commercial laxatives like Metamucil and Serutan. Once ingested, psyllium husks absorb large amounts of water for their size, and help ease and encourage the flow of waste through the intestines. Daily ingestion of psyllium husks increases the frequency and productivity of bowel movements.
Although psyllium husks are most well-known for their use as bulk laxatives, they are actually a more potent cholesterol-lowering agent and have received an "A" rating in this category from the National Institute of Health.
When taken over an eight-week period, psyllium husks lower bad (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol without adversely affecting good (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. However, because the reduction is relatively small, those who have been diagnosed with problematically high cholesterol are advised to consult their physician for more aggressive treatment.
As psyllium husks function as a bowel regulator, they are also effective at treating diarrhea, especially in patients who are tube fed or undergoing orlistat therapy. Psyllium husks not only bulk loose stool, but decrease gastrointestinal discomfort.
Scientific research has not begun to unravel all of the benefits of psyllium husks. Psyllium husks have shown promise in treating the following disorders (although further research is needed for conclusive results): preventing anal fissures and colon cancer, partially blocking fat absorption, reducing gas and bloating, lowering risk of heart disease, reducing the symptoms of constipation-related hemorrhoids, improving blood-sugar levels, treating inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome, and preventing childhood obesity.