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Psyllium is a natural laxative that comes from the seed husks of a plant, Plantago ovata, that commonly grows in India. The seeds are often ground into a powder or shaped into a wafer, which people who suffer from constipation ingest in order to help move their bowels. People suffering from other conditions, such as diarrhea or high cholesterol, may also benefit from taking Psyllium.
The seed husks of Psyllium have a coating of mucilage, a sticky substance that is the primary ingredient in many laxatives. Mucilage absorbs excess liquid in the intestine, which helps to prevent diarrhea. The non-digestible fiber also creates bulk in the intestine, which helps to cure constipation by helping the stool move easily through the bowel.
In order for a person to get the full effect from the seed husks, he must mix the powder into an 8 ounce (236 mL) glass of water or juice before ingesting it. If he decides to take a wafer, he should follow it with at least 8 ounces (236 mL) of liquid. Serious problems can follow if a person does not drink enough liquid after taking psyllium.
People who have high cholesterol may also see some benefit from taking psyllium. It has been shown to reduce the levels of "bad cholesterol," or low-density lipoprotein (LDL), in some people and to reduce total cholesterol levels. Most doctors would recommend taking it alongside a more intense drug regimen since it does not help raise "good cholesterol" or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and usually only reduces LDL by small amounts.
Psyllium may also be beneficial for people who suffer from long term disorders of the digestive tract, such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, or Crohn's disease. The seed husks may help calm diarrhea or constipation caused by these disorders. Some people, though, experience a worsening of symptoms when they consume any type of fiber, so it may not be helpful in some cases.
Some people may find that they are allergic to psyllium. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and include hives and rashes as well as anaphylaxis, a possibly life-threatening reaction. People allergic to melon or grass pollen should be wary, as they may be allergic to psyllium as well.
If a person takes certain drugs, such as anti-depressants, some heart medications, or certain seizure medications, he should talk with his doctor before taking psyllium, as it may decrease the effectiveness of those drugs. It may also lower a person's blood sugar to dangerous levels, so a person with diabetes should also exercise care. It can also block the intestine in people who have had bowel surgery and should only be taken under a doctor's supervision.