Pectin is a soluble fiber best known for its ability to improve digestive issues such as diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation. Research suggests it may also help with high cholesterol, acid reflux, weight loss, and diabetes. Read on to discover all the potential health benefits and side effects of pectin.
What Is Pectin?
Pectin is a complex carbohydrate (polysaccharide) found in plant cell walls that helps maintain their structure. It’s a viscous soluble fiber with the ability to form a gel. Pectin is found 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 potential health benefits .
What Is Pectin Made Of?
Pectin is a soluble fiber (polysaccharide) composed of simple sugars (monosaccharides). Its main component is galacturonic acid, a sugar acid derived from galactose. Other sugars found in pectin include xylose, apiose, rhamnose, galactose, and arabinose .
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 as a gelling agent (for jams and jellies), or as a stabilizer (in sweets, fruit juices, and milk drinks) is mainly extracted from apple pulp or the peel of citrus fruits [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, both of which lower blood sugar levels in the blood)
- May improve diarrhea
- May lower blood cholesterol
- May improve acid reflux
- Potential as a drug delivery system
- May help with diabetes
- May help lose weight
- May act as a prebiotic
- May improve constipation, ulcerative colitis, and vomiting
- May protect from radiation and lead poisoning
- Insufficient evidence for most benefits
- May cause digestive issues
- Has been reported to cause allergic reactions (including anaphylaxis)
- May interact with some drugs (statins, digoxin) and supplements (beta-carotene)
Possibly Effective for:
In 2 clinical trials on over 100 children with persistent diarrhea, 4 g/kg pectin effectively improved this condition. Similarly, a combination of apple pectin and chamomile extract reduced stool frequency in 2 trials on over 300 children with diarrhea [11, 12, 13, 14].
Diarrhea is a common adverse effect of parenteral nutrition due to the lack of dietary fiber in most solutions and the frequent treatment with antibiotics that disrupt the gut microbiota. In 2 clinical trials on 78 people, infusing a solution with pectin reduced the rate of diarrhea [15, 16].
Pectin (24 g) re-balanced the gut bacteria microbiome and alleviated symptoms in people suffering from IBS with diarrhea after 6 weeks in a clinical trial on 87 people .
All in all, the evidence suggests that pectin may help with diarrhea. You may discuss with your doctor if pectin may be helpful as a complementary approach in your case. Importantly, never take pectin in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes for diarrhea.
2) Lowering Cholesterol
In 5 clinical trials on almost 400 people with high cholesterol, a mixture of fibers that included pectin (15-20 g/day), reduced total and LDL cholesterol but didn’t change HDL or triglyceride levels [18, 19, 4, 20, 21].
In another study on 66 people with high glucose levels, a 0.4 L sugar beet pectin drink increased HDL levels .
However, a fruit juice supplemented with gum Arabic and pectin failed to lower cholesterol in a trial on over 100 people .
A meta-analysis of 67 clinical trials and almost 3,000 people concluded that pectin lowered LDL and total cholesterol but didn’t change HDL or triglyceride levels .
In obese rats fed a high-fat diet, apple pectin reduced total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides .
Taken together, the evidence suggests that pectin may help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. You may take it as an add-on to your treatment regime if your doctor determines that it may be helpful in your case.
3) Acid Reflux
A high-pectin diet (enteral liquid 2:1 v/v) reduced the number and duration of reflux episodes in a clinical trial on 18 children with cerebral palsy and acid reflux .
A pectin-based anti-reflux agent (Aflurax) improved acid reflux incidence and severity in 3 clinical trials on 179 people suffering from this condition [26, 27, 28].
However, the conventional treatment with omeprazole was more effective in another trial on 77 people .
Although limited, the evidence suggests that pectin may help with acid reflux (although less effectively than conventional therapies). You may discuss using it as an add-on with your doctor.
4) Drug Delivery Substance
A nasal spray has effectively been used as a delivery system for a pain medication (fentanyl) in 3 clinical trials on over 900 people [30, 31, 32].
Pectin-coated tablets to deliver drugs directly to the colon have also been tested in cells, animals, and 20 volunteers [33, 34, 35, 36].
These results warrant further research of pectin as a drug delivery system.
Insufficient Evidence for:
Although pectin has been suggested to have anti-diabetic effects, the evidence is not clear.
Dietary fiber (such as pectin) has been traditionally believed to help manage blood sugar levels in diabetics. However, 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, is not effective. The review also pointed out that many of the old studies had insufficient quality and lacked proper controls .
Dietary supplementation of pectin (5 g/2x a day for 3 months) did not affect blood sugar control in 17 diabetics, suggesting it was not helpful in controlling diabetes .
In a study of 12 people with type 2 diabetes, 20 g/day for 4 weeks of apple pectin caused the stomach to empty more slowly and slightly improved glucose tolerance. However, the study could not directly associate delayed stomach emptying with improved glucose tolerance .
In 2 studies of 76 adults delayed stomach emptying but had no effect on blood sugar levels [40, 22].
In a small trial on 6 healthy volunteers, a pectin-rich unripe apple preparation reduced blood sugar levels after a meal .
In rats with type 2 diabetes, citrus pectin did increase glucose tolerance, reduce insulin resistance, and blood sugar levels, and have an overall anti-diabetic effect .
Because most studies were small and the results are mixed, we cannot conclude for certain that pectin helps with diabetes. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to shed some light on this potential use.
2) Weight Loss
Pectin consumption (15 g) for 2 days slowed stomach emptying, thus increasing the feeling of satiety and reducing hunger, in a clinical trial on 9 obese people .
In 2 clinical trials on 84 people with normal weight, pectin (taken as orange juice or pectin-rich meals) increased the feeling of satiety and reduced food intake [43, 40].
In another trial on 32 overweight people, foods with gelled pectin slightly increased satiety and reduced energy intake. Similarly, a beverage with pectin reduced energy intake in a clinical trial on 29 overweight women. In another trial on 96 overweight women, pectin only caused a slight, non-significant reduction in calorie intake [44, 45, 46].
However, pectin failed to decrease hunger and body weight in a trial on 11 overweight people. In another trial on 120 healthy women, only gum Arabic reduced body weight and body fat percentage [47, 48].
Again, a few, small studies with mixed results have tested the role of pectin in weight loss. Further clinical research is needed before we can draw solid conclusions.
In a clinical trial of 87 people with irritable bowel syndrome, 6 weeks of pectin (24 g pectin/day) acted as a prebiotic, increasing good bacteria in the colon. Another study of 80 people with constipation given pectin (24 g/day) for 4 weeks had the same result [17, 49].
In a study on over 1,100 formula-fed infants, pectin acidic oligosaccharides were well tolerated and improved stool consistency. However, they failed to act as a prebiotic in a small trial on 15 infants [50, 51]
Pectin oligosaccharides blocked the growth of harmful colon bacteria (clostridia and Bacteroides) and stimulated the growth of healthy bacteria (Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus) in cell-based studies [52, 53].
Although some results are promising, the evidence is insufficient to claim that pectin works as a prebiotic in humans. More clinical research is needed.
4) Radiation Damage
In a study of 94 Chernobyl 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 on 64 children exposed to radiation, pectin (15-16% apple-pectin powder) reduced the levels of the radioactive chemical element, cesium-137, by 62.6% .
Although the results are promising, 2 clinical trials cannot be considered sufficient evidence. More clinical research is needed to validate their results.
In a clinical trial on 80 patients with constipation, 4 weeks of pectin (24 g/day) improved colon transit and reduced constipation symptoms .
Dietary pectin combined with fecal microbiota transplantation improved constipation in a small trial on 30 people .
The results are promising but insufficient to support the use of pectin in constipated people. More clinical trials on larger populations are needed to confirm these preliminary results.
A rice-based diet with pectin (4 g/kg for 1 week) reduced vomiting in a clinical trial on 62 boys with diarrhea .
In another 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 .
Again, the results are promising but insufficient to back this health benefit of pectin. More clinical trials are warranted.
7) Lowering Blood Pressure
In a clinical trial on 66 people with high glucose levels, pectin (0.4 L drink) reduced systolic blood pressure .
However, apple juice with pectin had no effect on blood pressure in another trial on 23 healthy volunteers .
Two small trials with opposite results cannot be considered sufficient evidence that pectin helps lower blood pressure. More clinical trials are needed to draw some conclusions on this potential benefit.
8) Ulcerative Colitis
In a clinical trial on 20 people with ulcerative colitis receiving fecal microbiota transplantation, pectin (20 g/day) increased the effectiveness of the transplant and reduced ulcerative colitis symptoms .
A single clinical trial on a small population and using pectin together with another intervention (fecal transplantation) cannot be considered conclusive evidence. More clinical research is needed.
9) 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 .
Again, the evidence is insufficient to support this potential benefit until more clinical research is conducted.
Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)
No clinical evidence supports the use of pectin for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on pectin’s potential anticancer effects and mechanisms. It’s still in the animal and cell stage and further clinical studies have yet to determine if its extract may be useful in cancer therapies.
Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with pectin or any other supplements. If you want to use it as a supportive measure, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.
In rats, modified citrus pectin reduced the spread of prostate cancer, but not primary tumor growth .
In cell-based studies, modified pectin reduced the growth of prostate, colon, skin, and leukemia (both erythroleukemia and multiple myeloma) cancer cells [62, 63, 64, 65, 66].
In two studies in rats, pectin increased iron absorption in the gut. However, pectin was ineffective in another study on iron-deficient rats [67, 68, 69].
Limitations and Caveats
Many clinical trials tested pectin mixed with other fibers, making it difficult to determine the specific contribution of pectin to the effects observed [18, 19].
Although most of the studies were conducted in humans, many of them had small populations or a short follow-up period [43, 25, 42, 39].
Side Effects & Precautions
This list does not cover all possible side effects. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you notice any other side effects.
Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. In the US, you may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088 or at www.fda.gov/medwatch. In Canada, you may report side effects to Health Canada at 1-866-234-2345.
Pectin is generally safe for human consumption. However, a fiber mixture with pectin (20 g/day for 15 weeks) caused some gut-related side effects such as diarrhea, flatulence, and loose stools in a clinical trial .
People with allergies to pistachios and cashews may be sensitive to pectin. For instance, a boy developed two severe, life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) after eating cashews and a pectin-containing fruit smoothie .
A man developed asthma from inhaling pectin powder .
Supplement/Herb/Nutrient-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.
Pectin may decrease the absorption of statins. 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 decreases the absorption and effectiveness of the heart medication digoxin. To prevent their interaction it’s advised to separate their consumption by at least 2 hours .
Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A)
In a study of 7 healthy subjects given 12 g of citrus pectin with 25 mg beta-carotene, pectin reduced beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) blood levels by more than 50% .
Because pectin is not approved by the FDA for any condition, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on trial and error. Discuss with your doctor if pectin may be useful as a complementary approach in your case and which dose you should take.
The doses used in clinical trials were [19, 55, 54, 17, 58, 49]:
- Cholesterol lowering: 5-20 g/day
- Digestive issues (diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, constipation): 20-24 g/day
The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of pectin users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.
Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
Although there is no scientific evidence to support this use, many people took in pectin to reduce chronic joint, hip, neck, and back pain. Users were generally satisfied.
A lot of people took in pectin with Gatorade to prevent certain substances from being detected in drug tests. They generally reported good results.
The main adverse effects reported were bloating and diarrhea, most likely due to its fiber content. Two people reported allergic reactions to pectin.