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Psyllium fiber is a mix of bulk-forming laxative and water-soluble fiber typically used to treat constipation or diarrhea. Some weight loss supplements also include psyllium powder as an appetite suppressant. The supplement works by absorbing water in the intestine forming bulk waste. Bulk waste is then passed through the intestine and out of the body during a regular bowel movement.
There are more than 200 species of plant used to create psyllium fiber for dietary uses. The natural fiber is commonly added to breakfast cereals, high-fiber snacks, and fiber powders. Daily fiber recommendations for men and women under the age of 50 are 25 grams (g) and 38 g, respectively. Over the age of 50, recommendations increase to 30 g for women, and reduce to 30 g for men. Most people in the U.S. consume less than daily recommendations.
The most common use for psyllium fiber is as a laxative or anti-diarrhea supplement. As a bulk-forming laxative, users should consume psyllium fiber with at least eight ounces of water. Water intake should also be increased throughout the day to prevent constipation. Bulk-forming laxatives can only treat constipation if sufficient water is available to help move waste from the body.
Psyllium products can also relieve diarrhea. Extra water in the bowel, a common cause of diarrhea, may be absorbed by psyllium fiber. In this manner, fiber works to regulate bowel movements instead of having a laxative effect. Waste may also pass out of the body more slowly when fiber is consumed.
Weight loss supplements add psyllium fiber to formulas to decrease hunger. There are no scientific studies supporting this claim, however. Water is absorbed in the intestine and not the stomach. Glucomannan, another form of fiber, does absorb water in the stomach. Clinical studies support use of water-soluble fiber to reduce bad cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels.
Psyllium fiber supplements are available in capsule and powder form. Capsules are taken with water, while the powder is mixed with water or juice and consumed. Warnings on fiber supplements advise users to drink plenty of water to prevent psyllium from swelling up in the throat. If it expands in the throat, choking or suffocation may occur.
There are warnings associated with taking fiber supplements. Users should not take fiber within one hour of taking prescription medications. People suffering from esophageal stricture, or narrow esophagus, should not take psyllium powder. Also, the product should not be given to children unless directed by a physician.