Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Secrets Of The Psyllium Dietary Supplement

This post is going to talk frankly about defecation--and, in particular, mine, since I can't speak authoritatively on anybody else's. If this bothers you or doesn't interest you, leave now, and come back tomorrow for something more pleasant.

This is one of the oddest TJ's products I've yet encountered. Let me count the ways.

First, the name. Is it supposed to be a play on "Secrets of the Asylum"? If so, isn't that kind of an obscure reference?

Second, the brand: It's the only "Trader Darwin" product I've ever seen. Tons of Trader Jose, Trader Ming, Trader Jacques, Trader Giotto, etc. But no Trader Darwin that I've ever seen before. And it obviously breaks the pattern. Moreover, it does so in a way and for a reason that I can't figure out. Is this stuff from Australia, maybe? But if so, why pick the city of Darwin to stand for Australia? Or maybe "Darwin" is just a vague reference to all places exotic, as in Darwin's travels on the HMS Beagle. Nothing on the package says where it's from, so I have no way to settle this strange little mystery.

EDIT: After writing this, I discovered that several other dietary supplements are from "Trader Darwin," and all except for this psyllium also carry the slogan, "For the survival of the fittest." So that kind of explains it. But it doesn't explain why they left that secondary and more-or-less explanatory phrase off of this one product in the Trader Darwin line.  

Third, the canister is festooned with faux Egyptian iconography. What the hell does that have to do with anything you could associate with psyllium, or with Darwin?

Fourth, it's clearly just not a typical Trader Joe's kind of thing.

Fifth, it's so obscure that I had walked past it probably a hundred times before I first noticed it on the shelf. (A little searching online proved to me that TJ's has been selling it for years.) I've never seen it advertised in the Fearless Flyer, never seen it promoted in the store, never seen anybody on Twitter or on any of the other TJ's blogs mention it. But I suppose they must sell enough of it to justify keeping it in their product line-up.

Now, a bit of background about me. I have irritable bowel syndrome. This is an annoying but fortunately not dangerous condition, so if you have to pick some sort of disease to have, it's probably one of your better choices--compared to, y'know, Ebola or something.

For years, I had a problem with alternating constipation and diarrhea, one of the classic hallmarks of IBS. It was irksome, but not so severe as to disrupt my life in any major way, so I just lived with it. But then when I got a hemorrhoid thrown in with it, I decided, on the advice of my colo-rectal surgeon, to start increasing my fiber intake with supplements. Large, consistent, daily doses of fiber tend to smooth out the highs and lows of bowel activity. I've been using Metamucil daily for 20+ years now. I started getting into it right around the time they were shifting their product to the more finely ground version that you see on the shelves now.

This TJ's psyllium is a throwback to the way Metamucil used to be: coarse and gritty. I find it downright unpleasant to use. With every swallow, you're acutely aware of all the undissolved chunks of rough plant material passing over the various surfaces of your mouth and throat. This is exactly the problem that Metamucil fixed by reformulating their product into a much finer powder.

The TJ's stuff also just won't suspend nicely. It rapidly all rises to the surface as soon as you stop stirring it. I found that the only way to get it down was to stir, stir, stir--quick take a chug while it was still spinning in the glass--stir, stir, stir--quick take another chug, etc.

The TJ's psyllium is unflavored. My preference is to use orange-flavored Metamucil in water. (I use a mixture of the stuff with sugar and the sugar-free, because after a lot of experimentation I found that the taste that way was better than the taste of either one alone.) However, I respect people who want to mix their fiber with something like orange juice, and thus need an unflavored product. It's just not for me.

I tried it for about three days all by itself, and then just couldn't stand it anymore, between the lack of flavor, the horrid grittiness, and the physical/mechanical difficulty of getting it down.

Instead, I found that I could add a heaping tablespoon of it to my usual Metamucil mixture without much problem. The resulting slurry was noticeably thicker and grittier than without the addition, but not prohibitively so. Then the question became, would adding more fiber make for better results?

In theory, it should. More fiber means more water retained in the colon. That's how the stuff works, after all: it's hydrophilic, and holds water in a kind of gel. This then resists the natural tendency of the water to get absorbed into the bloodstream through the wall of the intestine. More water in the stools makes them softer, more deformable, easier to pass. That's how it helps prevent constipation. And more is better, up to some very high limit.

At least that's the theory. In practice, it turned out, not so much.

One of the really annoying common features of IBS is incomplete evacuation. You go, but don't feel finished. So you sit and wait--and nothing more happens. Finally, you give up, have to use a ton of toilet paper to get clean, yet walk away sure that the job isn't done. But you have to get on with your day sooner or later. Usually within an hour or so, you get the urge again, and the rest finally comes. A big daily dose of fiber supplementation is highly effective at fixing this problem. You sit, evacuate cleanly and completely, one quick virtually spotless wipe, and it's done. Very satisfying, after living with the frustrations of incomplete evacuation.

For reasons that I cannot explain, however, adding the TJ's psyllium to my usual dose of Metamucil made this problem worse, not better. At first I couldn't believe this result; it makes no sense. Since IBS can have a hefty degree of day-to-day variation to begin with (pretty much the hallmark of the condition), I thought maybe something else was causing me to have a temporary slow-down, and the TJ's psyllium just happened to be in the mix when that was happening.

In order to find out, I set a schedule and used the TJ's addition for one or two weeks, then off (i.e., just my regular Metamucil) for one or two weeks. After six such on/off cycles, I was thoroughly convinced: Adding TJ's to my Metamucil unquestionably caused nearly daily episodes of incomplete evacuation, which almost never troubles me on my usual routine. This is a completely counterintuitive result, and I am utterly at a loss to explain it. Maybe it's some sort of idiosyncratic reaction between my bowel and this product that will not happen to anybody else. But I used up the entire canister of the stuff in this months-long experiment, and I couldn't deny the reality of what it was doing. The weeks on it were problematic. The weeks off it were not.

Adding the TJ's fiber to Metamucil also triggered an unmistakable, pronounced increase in flatulence. Because I live alone and work from home, I don't think I inflicted this side effect on anybody else. But woe be unto family members if you try this stuff and it has the same effect on you that it did on me. You might want to be sure you have a dog that you can blame it on.

To summarize: For me, this stuff added expense, gassiness, bad taste, and unpleasant grittiness, all while worsening the problems I was trying to use it to fix. IBS has a ton of person-to-person variability, so, as the saying goes, your mileage may vary. But for me, it was about a complete a failure as anything I might take for my IBS could be.

For that dubious distinction, I'm putting Secrets of the Psyllium in my Bottom Ten list. And yes, I do see the juvenile humor in that.

Will I buy it again? 



  1. Nicely written and informative article. I found this blog and article during an online search for the ingredients of TJ & Metamucil psyllium for comparison shopping purposes.

    Rakewell is spot on about this product with its bland, coarse and gritty, and hard to choke down unattractiveness.

    I've tried various fiber products for IBS for about 10 years now. I tried TJ psyllium first as a digestive aid (before being diagnosed with IBS) years ago and found it impossible to drink. On the advice of a coworker, I tried the orange flavored, artificially sweetened Citrucel, switching with its Metamucil competitor for comparison. I slightly preferred Citrucel's orange taste over Metamucil's. Over time, I found I preferred the psyllium of Metamucil over the celulose of Citrucel, though both worked for my symptoms. I was grateful to my friend for his recommendation for the fiber gave me relief from frequent diarrhea.

    But I really was (and am) put off by the aftertaste of the non-sugar sweeteners used in both Citrucel and Metamucil (probably just a personal taste trait, others do fine). So I tried TJ's psyllium capsules for about three years, but developed a recurring ache in my lower bowel that my doctor decided might be caused by not taking enough water with the capsules or just a personal sensitivity; he recommended switching back to the finely ground powders.

    So this year, 2017, I started taking sugar sweetened Metamucil, and, as expected, it is as effective as the artificially sweetened. But I am also concerned about the "empty" calorie content of the sugar sweetened Metamucil, at 45 calories per tablespoon. So I began running personal experiments with using TJ psyllium, at its 0 calories per tablespoon, mixed with Metamucil as a means to reduce calories while enhancing the beverage with an orange taste that would make that daily glass palatable. Mixing TJ psyllium with orange juice helps with the blandness but has sugar, just as the Metamucil does, which defeats a desire for fewer calories while simultaneously doing nothing to overcome TJ's coarse and gritty consistency.

    I just ran out of TJ psyllium and was wondering whether it was worth buying more.

  2. People, what do you want, a gentle, natural fiber-rich laxative or a tasty drink? The advantage of TJ psyllium is that it has nothing else added to it! No sweeteners or other chemicals. Just add some psyllium powder to your favorite juice, stir it up so that it is fully hydrated and chug it down. I like it with cranberry or cherry juice. Works wonders for me. Rinse the cup with water afterwards so it doesn't stick to it.

    1. Spot on...the best product out there. I am a firm believer. About 20 years ago, I had a bout of abdominal pain but seemed to be 'regular'. Added about 2 Tablespoons to a glass of water (I'm not a milquetoast girly and don't need it to taste like a glass of wine) two or three times a day and the result was a miracle!

  3. This was hilarious and insightful. Thank you for your testing and sharing your experiences! Will pick up Metamucil over Darwin’s now.

  4. I really like how psyllium husk can sweep the toxins from your body. I've found a brand that tastes good and is very fine, so disolves well,It comes in a few delicious flavors. I like to add it to my smoothies for a burst of flavor. It's for people that love flavor and quality ingredients. My son uses it daily for his IBS and it keeps it under control.