Plantago ovata, Indian Plantago, Isabgol,Plantago ispaghula, Blonde psyllium or just Psyllium – all these are names of Psyllium Ovata – an annual herb about 35-45 cm height with linear leaves and a big number of flowering shoots going from the base of the plant with small white flowers.
Psyllium ovata belongs to the Plantaginaceae family and Plantago genus.
The plant is native to India, Asia, Iran and North Africa. Also it is grown in many other counties for commercial purposes, such as United States, some European countries and counties of former Soviet Union. The plant potentially could grow in most of the countries as it needs any moderately fertile soil in a sunny position. For lots of nice seeds it needs clear, sunny and dry weather just before the harvest. Psyllium ovata grows best on light, well drained, sandy soil; it responds well to cool, dry weather and has a moderate water requirement.
For medical purposes in folk medicine husk and seeds are used. The plant flowers about 60 days after planting then small capsules with the seeds open. The crop is harvested in the morning after the dew is gone and left for a few days to dry. The seeds are very small (1,000 seeds barely has 2 grams of weight), and are usually thrashed and milled (more spread usage – the outer layer of the seed – the psyllium husk – is milled).
The consumption of psyllium is constantly growing mainly due to the great interest in natural dietary fibers though its other health advantages are rather obvious. As dietary fibber it is available in high-fiber breakfast cereals such as “Bran Buds” and “Heartwise”. As a natural laxative in is used by lots of pharmaceutical firms due to mucilage that is obtained from the milled husk/seed (“Metamucil”, “Effersyllium”, “Fybogel” etc.) in forms of powder, granules, and even wafer. As a thickener it is used for ice-cream production. Technical-grade psyllium is used as a hydrocolloidal agent to improve water retention for newly-seeded grass areas, and also to improve transplanting success with woody plants. Even wastes after milling the seeds (or husk) are used as cattle and chicken feed as a natural source of fatty acids and starch.
For many years psyllium has been used as a natural laxative because of its main hydrophilic component – mucilage – its molecular structure causes it to absorb excess water while stimulating normal bowel elimination. Psyllium has a purely mechanical action – to form a gel in water, it is its role as endosperm in order to protect the seed from drying out. The seed in 1/3 consists of soluble polysaccharides and in 2/3 of insoluble.
Lots of researches have shown that psyllium as dietary fiber shortens gastrointestinal transit time and increases stool weight.
Soluble non-starch polysaccharides from psyllium seed (to be more precise – its anaerobic fermentation) results in the production of propionate, butyrate and acids acetate. Butyric acid exhibits antineoplastic activity against colorectal cancer; also may be helpful in the treatment of ulcerative colitis.
Another useful effect – reduction of cholesterol – psyllium decreases cholesterol absorption and increases the fractional turnover of cholic and chenodeoxycholic acids.
- Constipation – it increases stool weight as well as number of bowel movements per day.
- High cholesterol – psyllium is a great, effective and well studied lipid-lowering agent that naturally reduces levels of total cholesterol in blood and levels of low-density lipoprotein („bad cholesterol”). It has no effects on triglyceride levels and on high-density lipoprotein („good cholesterol”).
- Diarrhea – mostly studied inpatients undergoing tube feeding.
- Other benefits – psyllium is used in case of Inflammatory bowel disease, Irritable bowel syndrome, Obesity (as it improves blood sugar and lipid levels which can relate to obesity in some children) and in different weight-loss programs as dietary psyllium may help to increase the excretion of fat in the stool.
Other usages are less popular but not less effective – it is used in treating abscesses, wound healing (leaves – used on the skin), stomach ulcer, urethritis, excessive menstrual bleeding, gallstones, stool incontinence, high blood pressure, psoriasis, etc.