Close up of Konjac leave (Amorphophallus konjac)

The Konjac Kraze

Perhaps in your search for dietary supplements and fibers, you might have come across this plant called the konjac, also nicknamed the elephant yam, voodoo lily or the snake palm. Its corm, or, rather, its root, offers many benefits like assisting with weight loss, as well as lowering your cholesterol and blood sugar. Konjac root has been getting a good deal of press lately, especially since appearing on Dr. Oz’s show and making his list of “Viewers All Time Favorite Tips” … not to mention all the buzz it’s getting on other TV shows and in various publications.

Konjac root is a perennial plant that is native to parts of Japan, China, Indonesia and other select areas of Southern Asia. Its health benefits come in the form of plant-derived, water-soluble dietary fiber. This fiber is one of the main ingredients in shirataki noodles and konnyaku, which are traditional Japanese foods. More recently, however, the fiber from the Konjac plant can be found in the form of supplements. However, it can also subject you to some pretty negative side effects as well.

Shirataki noodles (Konjac) – japanese food

The History

First, let’s talk the history of Konjac and what is was originally used as and cultivated for. Konjac has been eaten for medicinal purposes for over 1500 years. It’s believed to have been first discovered by the indigenous people of China, grown and harvested for the treatment of burns, hernias, asthma and skin disorders. Many Buddhists monks have utilized the supplement for therapeutic purposes. During the Edo period, konnyaku, meaning yam cake, was a healthy delicacy in Japan that would be imported from China and was exclusively available to the ruling elite. Now, it’s become a staple in nutritional, Japanese diets. Today, konjac is used to make, as stated earlier, noodles, candies, shakes, sponges, pasta and products for skin care. 

What are the Konjac Benefits?

Well, one of the positives is that the konjac plant’s root makes a great dietary supplement. The starchy root is rich in a fiber known as glucomannan, which is where the health benefits of this plant derive from. When this fiber is eaten, the glucomannan soaks up large quantities of water, giving us the feeling that we’re full for long stretches of time so we’ll eat less. What makes Konjac root an effective weight loss aid is its ability to help you feel fuller for longer periods of time so that you eat less. Konjac has also shown positive results in overweight folks as well, and it’s an easier means to meet the daily recommended fiber allowance set by the American Heart Association and the National Cancer Institute. Not only that, but this dietary fiber attaches itself to bile acids and helps to eliminate them from the body.  Essentially it works as what is known as a bulk-forming laxative, which helps you to have larger and more solid stools for easier elimination.

An 8-week study conducted in 1984 and published in the Journal of Obesity found that patients who consumed one (1) gram of Konjac root had a notable decrease in their LDL cholesterol levels and their serum cholesterol levels.

What is LDL cholesterol?

There are good kinds of cholesterol as well as bad kinds. LDL cholesterol collects in the walls of blood vessels, which can cause blockages and form blood clots, increasing your risk of a heart attack. Another test conducted in 1995 found similar results, as well as a noted decrease in the triglyceride levels of the test subjects. Triglyceride is a type of fat present in the blood. More than thirty percent of adults in the United States have high triglyceride levels, which is linked to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes, especially in adults with low HDL cholesterol levels, or “good” cholesterol. These are just a few of the benefits shown through trials and testing of konjac root.

Oooooh! What are Some Other Konjac Benefits?

  • As stated earlier, the fiber can latch on to acids and bile and, not unlike a laxative, removes them from the body when we go to the bathroom. About a modest dose of 3 to 4 grams is recommended for constipation relief, as it responds to our bodies the way prebiotics do, creating bulky bowel movements to make its passage through the colon easier. Subsequently, it provides less strain and discomfort for expulsion.
  • Konjac is also a natural prebiotic, which are the ingredients in food that are non-digestible and helps with the growth and development of the microorganisms found in our colons. Their purpose is to provide nourishment for probiotics, live microorganisms identical to the ones found in our stomach. Essentially, prebiotics form a symbiotic relationship with probiotics when mixed together, as the two mutually benefit from each other. Prebiotics provides nourishment for the probiotics, and the latter provides the bacteria for the former. The glucomannan found in konjac are also non-digestible compounds, not unlike prebiotics, and because our bodies can’t fully break it down, it must travel through the upper portion of our gastrointestinal tracts, creating probiotics when they hit the colon. Why is that a good thing? Well, for those truly unfamiliar with the benefits of prebiotics, know that they’re a good foundation to good gastrointestinal health, enhances digestion, balances hormones, lowers autoimmune reactions, reduces heart disease and inflammation as well as better our bodies immune functions.
  • Another pro, the glucomannan found in konjac roots can help lower your cholesterol. According to a meta-analysis conducted in 2017, you can actually lower your LDL cholesterol by 10% if you take 3 grams of konjac daily, and a 7% decrease in non-HDL cholesterol with the same exact dosage. High cholesterol can double the chances of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death. The United States alone lose 610,000 people annually because of it. And the thing is, over 30% of Americans have high LDL cholesterol, and below 30% of that number are people who have their levels in control. Glucomannan minimizes absorption of cholesterol found in our intestines.
  • The effects konjac has on diabetes has been the subject of several scientific studies, given its capabilities of lowering blood sugar. It speeds up the time it takes the food to travel through our body but prolongs the gastric emptying process. This, thereby, reduces the amount of food that can result in concentrations of cholesterol and glucose. It also can decrease body weight, increase plasma glucose between meals, and eliminate any cholesterol with bile acid. Other studies have shown konjac to be beneficial in treating and even preventing hypoglycemia, which is when we have to much sugar in our bloodstream.
  • If you’re in the market for a new exfoliate that’s gentle on the skin and makes you look radiant, why not try a konjac sponge? They can be used for any part of the body, removing any excess, dead skin, blackheads, dirt or oil, allowing for a deep clean. One of the more interesting facets of these sponges is that they come in a variety of different colors, which isn’t purely for aesthetic, mind you. No, the colors mean the sponges themselves are comprised of different active ingredients. Example, if your konjac sponge is green, then it might have green tea leaves in it. If it’s grey, then it’s made of charcoal. Make sure you get the full advantages out of them as much as possible and as quickly as possible since they only have a shelf life of a month.

Does Konjac have any negative side effects?

  • The bad? It’s a choking hazard when not eaten properly! The very same properties that make it a sufficient means of losing weight can cause esophageal and intestinal blockage, especially in kids and the elderly. That’s because it absorbs a lot of water and is difficult to break down. If it gets lodged in the throat, it can expand when it contacts liquids, resulting in suffocation. Even gelatinous konjac products, like jellies and candies, don’t dissolve in your mouth, so thoroughly chew before swallowing. There’s a simple solution though – it’s advised that you take any supplement containing the fiber of the root with a large glass of water. It helps the fiber to pass through your system safely. So, for the love of God, please keep them out of reach of small children.
  • If the supplement is being taken medicinally, you do run the risk of minor side effects including flatulence, constipation, softening of stool, diarrhea and bloating.
  • Also, since it can lower your blood pressure, it can also run the risk of running your blood pressure too low. And in case you don’t know, low blood pressure can cause spotty vision, nausea, loss of balance, lightheadedness, depression fatigue and fainting. Make sure you’re aware of your dosage, especially if you’re taking it with any prescribed medications that are already supposed to lower blood sugar to begin with. Before adding konjac to your diet, make sure you speak with a medical professional.
  • Many countries have outright banned them due to the high volumes of throat and bowel obstructions. Be careful if you’re taking konjac tablets or pills, as these usually result in blockage, not to mention, the latter has been linked to cases of internal bleeding.
  • If you do take any konjac supplements, be sure you drink at least 8 oz. of water along with it, otherwise, it can cause intestinal problems. Avoid if you have trouble swallowing or are already taking konjac supplements on top of that.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should probably take a hiatus from konjac for a little while. And if you’re to go into surgery, make sure it is purged from your body and refrain from taking any more for at least two weeks beforehand.

How much Konjac should you take?

Let’s talk about this a little more, as the amount you take is vital to reaping the health benefits that come with it. Since the fiber can absorb up to 50 times its own weight in water, it’s best to start off with a relatively low dosage. In fact, start off lower than you would most normal fibers, maybe like a daily allowance of 2 to 4 grams at most, especially if you’re either trying to lose or maintain your weight. If you suffer from constipation, try a dosage of three or four grams should help with a smoother passage.

If you’d rather go around taking pills, tablets or extracts, there are other organic compounds that are available for consumption in retail markets, albeit, they’re much more difficult to find than their supplemental forms. There are powders and even flour made from konjac but be sure your read the nutritional facts found on any container’s label, as you are going to want to make sure there aren’t any added ingredients, and that what you are buying is 100% pure. With konjac flour, you can make the aforementioned, and adored, shirataki noodles, or even regular old pasta. The powders are also good mixtures for smoothies.

Is it For You?

So, what do you think? Does the good outweigh the bad, or vice versa? Are the side effects worth risking for the benefits? Well, that’s up to you. If you’re sincerely considering including this fiber in your diet, make sure you’re aware this isn’t some magical pill that makes all health problems disappear overnight. Like any other supplement, it works better when coupled with a healthy lifestyle. This means your eating nutritionally rich meals and getting the appropriate amount of exercise. If you’re unsure about taking this supplement, maybe start with the foods I mentioned earlier if you’re still wanting to get some of the benefits. Also, if you’re uncertain of whether or not any negative side effects might pertain to you, make sure you check in with a medical professional before you take anything.

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