Pectin is a soluble fiber best known for its ability to reduce diarrhea and relieve constipation. It can also help hunger, weight loss, gut issues, as well as lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Pectin has also been proposed as a natural treatment for diabetes. Read more to discover all the fascinating health benefits and side effects of pectin.
What is Pectin?
Pectin is a complex sugar (polysaccharide) found in plant cell walls that helps maintain their structure. It’s a viscous soluble fiber, having the ability to form a gel, and is present in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts [1, 2, 3].
Due to its gel-like consistency, pectin is a popular addition to foods as a thickening agent and a great source of fiber with many health benefits .
What Is Pectin Made Of?
Pectin is composed of soluble fiber, meaning it easily absorbs water, forming a gel-like consistency .
Fruits and Food High in Pectins
The highest amount of pectin is present in citrus peels like orange, lemon, and grapefruit peels (30 to 35%), and in apple pulp (15 to 20%). Other major sources include quince, plums, gooseberries, cherries, apricots, and carrots .
Pectin used in the food industry is extracted from apple pulp or the peel of citrus fruits as a gelling agent (for jams and jellies), or as a stabilizer (in sweets, fruit juices, and milk drinks) [4, 7, 5].
Mechanism of Action
- Help solidify diarrhea or soften hard stool due to constipation
- Stimulate the release of GLP-1, a hormone that reduces hunger and helps with weight loss
- Bind to bile acids in the small intestine, reducing cholesterol levels
- Act as an anti-diabetic compound (via Akt upregulation and GSK3β downregulation, these two actions decrease sugar (glucose) levels in the blood)
1) Pectin and Diabetes
Although pectin has been suggested to have anti-diabetic effects, the evidence is not clear. The previous belief was that dietary fiber (such as pectin) could help manage blood sugar levels in diabetics. However, this might not be the case. A review study concluded that only large quantities of certain types of fiber, such as guar gum, can reduce blood sugar, while less viscous fiber, such as pectin, were not effective. Some of the studies that the review evaluated did not have the proper controls [11, 12].
Dietary supplementation of pectin (5 g/2x a day for 3 months) did not affect blood sugar control in 17 diabetics. The paper concluded that its findings suggest pectin is not helpful in controlling diabetes .
In a study of 12 patients with non-insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes, 20 g/day for 4 weeks of apple pectin caused the stomach to empty more slowly and improved glucose tolerance (the body’s response to sugar). However, this slower stomach emptying could not be directly connected to improved glucose tolerance .
In 2 studies of 76 adults (some with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and gallstones), pectin (5.2 g and 0.4 L drink, respectively) made the stomach empty more slowly but didn’t change blood sugar levels [15, 16].
However, in rats with type 2 diabetes, citrus pectin increased glucose tolerance, reduced insulin resistance, and blood sugar levels, and had an overall anti-diabetic effect (Akt upregulation and GSK3β downregulation, these two events reduce blood sugar levels) .
2) May Aid in Weight Management
Pectin consumption for 2 days slowed stomach emptying, making the subjects feel full for longer and less hungry (15 g, 9 obese subjects) .
In a study, 74 subjects with normal weight fasted overnight for 2 days and were then given orange juice with different pectin dosages (5, 10, 15, or 20 g). In another study, 10 healthy subjects had 3 different meals (fiber-free meal, a meal with agar, and meal with pectin) for a week and in both studies, pectin (5.2 g) caused them to feel fuller and reduced their food intake [18, 15].
3) May Improve Cholesterol
In 2 clinical trials of people with high cholesterol, a mixture of fibers that included pectin, reduced total and LDL cholesterol but didn’t change HDL or triglyceride levels. The first study used 15 g/day of the fiber mixture for 6 weeks, while the second study used 20 g/day for 15 weeks (51 people and 125 people) [21, 22].
4) May Decrease Blood Pressure
In a clinical trial with 66 subjects with high glucose levels, pectin (0.4 L drink) reduced systolic blood pressure .
A meta-analysis looked at the effect of viscous soluble fiber (β-glucan, guar gum, konjac, pectin, and psyllium) and determined that it lowers both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure .
5) May Reduce Heart Disease
Pectin (15 g/day for 4 weeks) blocked the formation of blood clots, which are a risk factor for heart disease (20 males with high cholesterol) .
Grapefruit pectin supplementation reduced blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol (without any changes to diet or lifestyle). However, it did not affect triglycerides, VLDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease (DB-crossover of 27 people with high cholesterol) .
6) Reduces Diarrhea
7) May Be a Prebiotic
In a study of 87 subjects with irritable bowel syndrome associated with diarrhea, 6 weeks of pectin (24 g pectin/day) acted as a prebiotic, increasing good bacteria in the colon. Another study of 80 subjects with constipation given pectin (24 g/day) for 4 weeks had the same result [29, 30].
Pectin byproducts (oligosaccharides) blocked the growth of harmful colon bacteria (clostridia and Bacteroides) and stimulated the growth of healthy bacteria (Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus) in cells [31, 32].
8) May Reduce Constipation
9) May Help with Ulcerative Colitis
In a study of 20 patients with ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease) receiving gut microbiota transplantation (transplantation of fecal bacteria from a healthy donor into a recipient), pectin (20 g/d, 50 % wt/wt) increased the effectiveness of the transplant and reduced ulcerative colitis symptoms .
10) May Reduce Vomiting
A rice-based diet with pectin (4 g/kg for 1 week) reduced vomiting (62 boys with diarrhea) .
In a crossover clinical trial, 18 children with cerebral palsy received a diet either high (enteral liquid 2:1 v/v) or low (enteral liquid 3:1 v/v) in pectin. After 4 weeks, the high-pectin diet reduced vomiting .
11) May Reduce Acid Reflux
A high-pectin diet (enteral liquid 2:1 v/v) reduced the number and duration of reflux episodes (crossover study of 18 children with cerebral palsy and acid reflux) .
12) May Reduce Radiation Damage
In southern Belarus, the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident are still being felt. In a cohort study of 94 children with high to moderate levels of a radioactive chemical element (cesium-137), apple pectin (5 g of Vitapect) given for 16 days reduced radiation damage and levels of the radioactive element .
In another study, pectin (15-16% apple-pectin powder) reduced the levels of the radioactive chemical element, cesium-137, by 62.6% (64 children exposed to radiation) .
13) May Reduce Lead Toxicity
In 7 hospitalized children, pectin (15 g of PectaSol) significantly reduced high blood lead levels .
In rats, pectin reduced lead levels in multiple organs .
14) May Reduce Cancer
Modified pectin (smaller and less complex molecules of pectin) may reduce certain types of cancer. In rats, modified citrus pectin reduced the spread of prostate cancer but it didn’t reduce the primary tumor growth .
15) May Increase Iron Absorption
However, in another study on rats with iron deficiency, pectin did not affect iron absorption .
16) As a Drug Delivery Substance
A review study concluded that, although there needs to be more research, pectin can potentially be used as an excipient, which is a substance that acts as an oral drug delivery molecule .
Limitations and Caveats
Side Effects & Precautions
Pectin is safe for human consumption, but in a clinical trial, a mixture of fibers that included pectin (20 g per day for 15 weeks) caused some gut-related side effects such as diarrhea, flatulence, and loose stools (125 subjects with high cholesterol) .
People with allergies to pistachios and cashews may be sensitive to pectin .
A man developed asthma associated with the inhalation of pectin powder .
Pectin With Statins
Pectin may decrease the absorption of statins (cholesterol medication). In 3 patients with high cholesterol levels, taking 15 g of pectin and 80 mg of a cholesterol-lowering drug (lovastatin) daily increased LDL levels .
Pectin With Digoxin
Pectin decreases the absorption of digoxin (common heart failure medication) and decreases its effectiveness. To prevent their interaction it’s advised to separate their consumption by at least 2 hours .
Pectin With Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A)
In a crossover study of 7 healthy subjects given 12 g of citrus pectin with 25 mg beta-carotene, pectin reduced beta-carotene blood levels by more than 50%. Beta-carotene is a molecule that is converted into vitamin A .
Pectin dosage varies so there is no specific dosage.
In clinical studies that used pectin to reduce cholesterol, the dosage varied from 5-20 g/day. For diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, and constipation dosages can be 20-24 g. For an anti-clotting effect, 15 g/day was used [22, 36, 35, 29, 33, 30, 25].
A lot of people used pectin with Gatorade to reduce certain substances in urine so that it’s not detected in drug tests, and say it works very well.
Some people found pectin helpful in reducing chronic joint, hip, neck, and back pain.
Some reported bloating and diarrhea after taking pectin, which is likely due to the fiber content.
Two people reported having an allergy to pectin.
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