Add this forgotten supplement back into your weight-loss regimen

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published May 21, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Psyllium husk is a natural fiber supplement that’s inexpensive and readily accessible.

  • Psyllium fiber has a long track record of safety and efficacy when taken as directed.

  • Taking 7 to 15 grams per day leads to significant metabolic benefits within a few short months.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the newest weight-loss drugs hitting the market. But does that mean previously popular appetite suppressants should be tossed aside?

Psyllium husk (such as grocery store staple Metamucil) has been a popular dietary supplement for almost a century. 

A recent research review shows that it can effectively induce weight loss when dosed before meals. It's also significantly cheaper (and safer) than the majority of other weight-loss products. Here’s a quick look at what psyllium husk can and can’t do for your patients.

Digestive powerhouse

If you provide patient care to the general public, elderly patients, or people with digestive disorders, there’s a good chance you’ve recommended psyllium fiber at some point in your career. This bulk-forming laxative is found in OTC products designed to reduce hemorrhoids, constipation, and diarrhea, along with a slew of additional health benefits.

Psyllium husk originates from a shrub-like herb that’s mainly found in India. There are up to 15,000 seeds in each plant, and psyllium husk is harvested from the seeds’ gel-coated outer layer.[] Psyllium husk is made into wafers, capsules, tablets, or dry powder, and it is meant to be mixed with water for consumption.

Effect on body weight

A comprehensive review in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners dusted off the data on psyllium husks’ impact on various metabolic measures, including body weight, waist circumference, and BMI.[] 

Significant results occurred in participants taking between 7 to 15 grams of psyllium fiber daily, divided up before meals.

After analyzing data from six studies (including 354 participants), the investigators observed that an average dose of 10.8 grams of psyllium husk produced the following results with a 95% confidence interval:

  • Decreased body weight by 2.1 kilograms

  • Lowered BMI by −0.8 kg/m2 

  • Reduced waist circumference by 2.2 cm

These results occurred over an average duration of 4.8 months in study populations who were overweight or obese.

Other metabolic effects

Psyllium fiber is a favorable choice for patients with metabolic syndrome—not only for weight loss reasons, but also because of its independent ability to lower cholesterol and fasting blood glucose levels.[]

Summing up these well-established benefits, the review authors wrote, “Additional meta-analyses support clinically proven benefits of psyllium fiber in improving glycemic control in metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, lowering LDL and total cholesterol in hyperlipidemia and patients being treated with a statin, decreasing blood pressure in hypertension, increasing stool output, softening hard stool in chronic constipation, and decreasing symptoms/normalizing stool form in IBS.”

Researchers publishing in Gut Microbes propose that psyllium husk and other isolated fibers are a practical solution to help make up for the lack of fiber in modern diets, promoting a healthier gut and reducing inflammation.[]

Weighing the pros and cons

While psyllium fiber’s effects on body weight may not be as staggering as those seen with weight-loss injections or bariatric surgery, they certainly come with fewer risks.

For one, psyllium husk is a readily available supplement that’s cost-effective and easy to obtain. Aside from digestive discomfort from taking too much too soon, most people experience minimal adverse effects.

Information on psyllium from Mount Sinai notes that certain groups should avoid psyllium husk, including those with esophageal strictures, bowel obstructions, and difficulty swallowing.[] As it may delay the absorption of medications, psyllium should be taken either 1 hour before dosing meds, or 2 to 3 hours after.

Special precautions should be considered for those taking the following meds:

  • Bile acid sequestrants

  • Carbemazepine (Tegretol)

  • Diabetes medication (dosage may need adjustment)

  • Digoxin

  • Lithium

  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Providers should also advise patients to drink plenty of water when adding a fiber supplement to their routine and to drink a full glass of water with each dose to avoid choking or constipation.[]

What this means for you

It’s easy to forget about products like psyllium fiber with so many new weight-loss medications dominating the news. However, psyllium fiber is worth consideration as a first-line treatment for various metabolic and digestive issues. As long as patients increase their dose gradually, take it apart from medications, and drink plenty of water, they should expect few side effects and significant benefits within a few months of daily supplementation.

Read Next: Eat this much salt for better sleep
Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter