Psyllium is a natural, soluble fiber derived from the husks of psyllium seeds. It is the active ingredient in laxatives, such as Metamucil, and may be used to enrich foods, such as ready-to-eat cereal. For decades, psyllium has been prescribed by doctors to prevent constipation or to regulate bowel habits in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, diverticular disease, or hemorrhoids. However, in recent years, psyllium has been shown to lower blood cholesterol; it is thought to stimulate the conversion of cholesterol into bile acid and then increase bile acid excretion. It may also decrease the intestinal absorption of cholesterol.
A review of eight clinical studies found that people with mild to moderately high blood cholesterol, who ate a low-fat diet and consumed 10.2 g of psyllium a day for over eight weeks, reduced total cholesterol by four percent and LDL cholesterol by seven percent, as compared with those who ate a low-fat diet but did not consume psyllium. In studies using psyllium-enriched cereal that provided about 10 to 12 g of psyllium a day, total cholesterol dropped five percent and LDL cholesterol dropped nine percent more than the reduction achieved with a low-fat diet alone. In fact, at least 7 g of soluble fiber from psyllium a day are needed for heart-healthy benefits. However, it may cause intestinal gas if too much is consumed too quickly. You may need to build up the dosage. Psyllium should also be taken with adequate amounts of fluids.
Whole grains are another major source of dietary fiber. See the next page to find out more about how whole grains can help lower cholesterol.