Pectin is a soluble fiber found in most plants. It is found most abundantly in:
- Peel and pulp of citrus fruits
In food, it is most commonly used to thicken jams, jellies and preserves.
The human body cannot digest pectin in its natural form. But a modified form of pectin, called modified citrus pectin (MCP), has properties that make it digestible.
Why do people take MCP?
People take MCP for many reasons. Some studies show that pectin, like other soluble fibers (such as the fiber in oatmeal and psyllium husks), can help lower LDL "bad" cholesterol. But the effect is small. If you have high cholesterol levels, soluble fibers like pectin may help lower cholesterol, but they usually don't work alone.
Most of what we know about pectin is based on animal studies. Pectin is also used to control diarrhea, and some evidence suggests it is effective in treating young children. However, the FDA decided in 2003 that the available evidence did not support this use. The next year, it banned the use of pectin in over-the-counter diarrhea medications.
Pectin may play a potential role in cancer treatment. In a small study of men with prostate cancer who had failed standard treatments, MCP appeared to slow the growth of the cancer.
Larger, better-designed studies are needed before any conclusions can be drawn about MCP's potential as an anticancer drug.
Pectin is also used to treat heavy metal toxicity, which can be caused by exposure to lead, mercury, arsenic and other elements. Some people think that MCP can help the body excrete such toxic substances. But there is little unbiased research to support this claim.
The optimal dose of MCP for any condition has not yet been determined. Additionally, as with supplements in general, the quality of the active ingredients in products containing MCP varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Can people get pectin from food?
Many common fruits contain pectin, so a healthy diet will include pectin. However, naturally occurring pectin must be modified to make it easily digestible. This pectin is usually sold in powder and capsule form.
What are the risks of taking MCP?
There are almost no side effects from taking MCP. But that doesn't mean it's without risks.
Some people report mild stomach cramps and diarrhea while taking MCP.
People allergic to citrus fruits should avoid MCP.
Additionally, MCPs may interfere with certain cancer treatments and should not be taken without supervision.
Pectin reduces the body's ability to absorb the important nutrient beta-carotene. Pectin can also interfere with the body's ability to absorb certain medications, including:
- Digoxin (heart medication)
- Lovastatin (a cholesterol-lowering drug)
- tetracycline antibiotic
The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements the same way it regulates foods and drugs. Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring safe and accurate labeling. Before taking pectin or any other dietary supplement, talk to your doctor about the potential risks.