Mucilages

Although from a phytochemical standpoint mucilages are often considered a minor category of the group of large plant polysaccharides (a category that includes gums, the various mannans, hemicelluloses and pectins), they are highly prized by phytotherapists. Strictly speaking, the class of compounds that the phytotherapist considers as ‘mucilages’ are acidic heterogeneous polysaccharides or the ‘acidic mucilages’.

Mucilages are generally not chemically well defined. They are large, highly branched polymeric structures built from many different sugar and uronic acid units (uronic acids are carboxylic acids derived from sugars). They are very hydrophilic (water loving) and are capable of trapping water (and other molecules) in their cage-like structures to form a gel. Consequently, when a mucilage is mixed with water it swells to many times its original volume as it absorbs water. The saccharide linkages are in a beta configuration, which means that human digestive enzymes cannot break down mucilages. However, they can at least be partially decomposed by bowel flora into beneficial metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). This may explain the traditional use of slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra) as a food for convalescents. Not only would the mucilage soothe a disturbed digestive tract, the SCFA formed in the colon would provide a source of readily absorbed and assimilated nourishment. There are some clinical and experimental studies that support the concept that mucilages can act as prebiotics, especially after their partial processing by the upper gastrointestinal tract.79–81

Mucilaginous remedies have been primarily used for their topical emollient and internal demulcent properties and their direct, if temporary, benefits in the management of inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract. This anti-inflammatory effect is probably more than just mechanical, although the protective benefits of a layer of mucilage on the digestive mucosa are obvious, especially as an extra barrier to gastric acid. The protective effect of mucilage isolated from Plantago major leaves against aspirin-induced gastric ulcer has been demonstrated in rats.82 Similar gastroprotective activity has been demonstrated for guar gum.83 It has also been shown that guar gum forms a layer closely associated with the intestinal mucosal surface when given to rats, providing a protective barrier.84

Application

Mucilages should be taken in a formulation that preserves their physical characteristics. Encapsulation is probably the most effective way of administering the whole material (subject to the contents being adequately sterilised) but cold aqueous infusionis the most efficient extraction process, using glycerol later for preservative purposes. Depending on the indication, they may be taken before meals (for digestive problems of the stomach and small intestine), during (for some stomach problems) or after meals (in the case of reflux oesophagitis/hiatus hernia).

Types of fiber

Soluble fibers dissolve in liquid and insoluble fibers do not dissolve in liquid. Soluble fiber is further subdivided into viscous and non-viscous fiber. Soluble non-viscous fibers dissolve entirely in liquid and serve only to increase daily fiber intake with no additional health benefits at normal serving sizes. Viscous soluble fiber (such as the kind in Metamucil) forms a viscous gel. Insoluble fibers do not form gels and move through the GI tract largely intact. Most fibers are exclusively soluble or insoluble but not a mixture of both types. Psyllium husk is unique because it is rich in viscous soluble fiber (70-80%) and insoluble fiber. In fact, psyllium husk is one of the highest naturally occurring sources of viscous soluble fiber. Both types of fiber are important to a healthy diet.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is more important as it helps in slowing or reducing glucose absorption from the intestines. It has also been shown to be beneficial in lowering fats in the blood. … Insoluble fibers are found in brans, husks of whole grains, nuts, and seeds.