Cholesterol reduction using psyllium husks - do gastrointestinal adverse effects limit compliance? Results of a specific observational study

Phytomedicine. 2008 Mar;15(3):153-9. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2007.11.024. Epub 2008 Jan 28.


Purpose: Despite known cholesterol lowering effects the use of psyllium husk (Plantaginis ovatae testa) in Germany for hypercholesterolemia is limited compared to their use as a laxative. To investigate whether use in hypercholesterolemia is limited due to adverse effects on the gastrointestinal system, a prospective observational study was conducted.

Methods: Sixty-two outpatients with documented hypercholesterolemia and complaints of constipation were identified from an academic clinical center. Treatment with 3.5g psyllium husk preparation administered three times daily was initiated and patients were monitored at weekly intervals. Gastrointestinal symptoms were quantified using a validated Nepean Dyspepsia Index modified to identify both upper and lower abdominal symptoms. Diaries and study medication records were used to evaluate compliance.

Results: Fifty-four of 62 patients enrolled in the study completed the study protocol with 4 subjects discontinuing due to adverse reactions associated with psyllium husks. Total cholesterol was significantly decreased from 252+/-39mg/dl before treatment to 239+/-37mg/dl after 3 weeks of treatment. Similarly, low density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol decreased from 174+/-34 to 162+/-31mg/dl during the study. Triglycerides and high density lipoprotein (HDL) were unchanged. Gastrointestinal symptoms were rated lower at the end than at the beginning of the study. In week 1 most of the patients reported gastrointestinal symptoms and also gastrointestinal adverse reactions, which however, showed a decrease from week 1 to weeks 2 and 3 in the diaries. Patient response to study medication was positive for patients completing the study.

Conclusions: Psyllium husk preparations may be a therapeutic option for patients with mild to moderately elevated cholesterol levels. Adverse gastrointestinal symptoms associated with the preparation appear to be transient in some of the patients. Compliance may be optimized with adequate patient counseling.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / chemically induced
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cathartics / adverse effects
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use*
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Constipation / chemically induced
  • Female
  • Flatulence / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Hypercholesterolemia / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data
  • Phytotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Plantago*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psyllium / adverse effects
  • Psyllium / therapeutic use*
  • Time Factors


  • Cathartics
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Psyllium
  • Cholesterol