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Psyllium (Plantago psyllium [Latin]), also known as fleaseed, plantago, and plantain, is one of over 200 species of plantain, and is best known for its dependable laxative effects. Indian Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines recommend the seed of this plant for treatment of diarrhea, constipation, and hemorrhoids. Today psyllium is the key ingredient in many fiber drinks, including Metamucil.

Psyllium seeds contain a lot of mucilage, a substance that absorbs water and becomes gel-like in the intestine. By absorbing excess fluid in the intestine, psyllium helps stop diarrhea. The gel-like mucilage also prevents constipation by acting as a stool-softener and increasing the bulk of stool, which stimulates bowel movements. Psyllium’s stool-softening action also helps ease the pain and bleeding caused by hemorrhoids.

Like other high-fiber foods, psyllium helps lower cholesterol. Including psyllium in your diet on a regular basis could help protect you from heart disease and stroke caused by clogged arteries. Studies have shown that just 1teaspoon of psyllium daily can significantly lower cholesterol—in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows any food containing 1.7 grams of psyllium to be labeled heart healthy. Laboratory studies indicate that psyllium also helps reduce blood sugar levels.

Psyllium is the active ingredient in a number of laxative drinks, including Metamucil and Fiberall. You can also buy the seeds in build—1 teaspoon 3 times a day is enough to keep most people regular. You have to be sure to consume enough water for the seeds to be converted to mucilage, or you can develop a severe and potentially life-threatening intestinal blockage.

Inhaling dust from psyllium seeds has caused severe allergic reactions. People who have had their stomach reduced or part of their intestine removed, or who have other gastrointestinal conditions, should not take this herb unless directed by their physician.

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