What Is Pectin? Everything You Need to Know About Taking It as a Dietary Supplement
It does a lot more than just enhance your homemade jam or jelly.
If your experience with pectin begins and ends at making jams, the idea of taking it as a dietary supplement may sound a little unusual. According to the dictionary, pectin is a soluble gelatinous polysaccharide that's present in fruits and is used to make jams and jellies. "Pectin is one of those things where it's present in the diet, but as a supplement it's a very new thing," says Dr. Craig Hopp, deputy director of the division of extramural research at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health. "When the industry was first born in the early '90s there were a few thousand products, and now there could be as many as 80,000. Pectin is in a category where the industry has, perhaps, gotten a little innovative, and created a supplement where there didn't used to be one."
Pectin occurs naturally in many fruits, including apples, pears, guava, quince, and plums, and is used as a thickener for jams, jellies, gummies, and other sweets. "Pectin is basically a supercharged form of plant fiber, typically found in apples or citrus fruits," says Dr. Arielle Levitan, co-founder of Vous Vitamin. As a supplement, it offers similar health benefits as those found in other soluble fibers: "It can be used to help with cholesterol lowering and improve constipation, or symptoms of irritable bowel," says Dr. Levitan. "It may also have some helpful effects with weight loss and lowering blood sugar." But like any ingredient meant to influence your digestive system, too much of it isn't always a good thing. "Pectin may cause some GI side effects and can interact with certain medications—namely Tetracylcine antibiotics and digoxin," says Dr. Levitan.
Use with Caution
As with all supplements, consumers should carefully evaluate any medical claims a company makes about its products before using them to treat or prevent major diseases like cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure. "Those are drug claims," says Dr. Hopp. "I'm not aware that fiber would be one of the things that would have any particular safety concerns, but certainly there's no reason to believe that pectin or any other fiber—or any other dietary supplement—will be effective to treat any chronic condition."
The FDA regulates dietary supplements as food, which means they aren't subject to the same stringent inspections and rules as pharmaceuticals. "These types of herbal supplements should generally be used with caution," says Dr. Levitan. "These are particularly difficult to manufacture well and these 'herbal' products are often not good products made from pure ingredients—more so than with other vitamin and mineral products. Many of these products, when analyzed, contain additives not listed on the label." Relying on trusted brands and looking for products with USP certification may help you weed out the lower-quality supplements—but experts still suggest adjusting your eating habits to get your fiber intake before turning to manufactured options. "You can't supplement your way to a good diet," says Hopp, "and you can't supplement your way to good health."