Pectin is a naturally occurring complex carbohydrate found in most plants. The highest concentrations are in the peel and pulp of ripe citrus fruits. Pectin is primarily used in the food industry as an ingredient in jams, jellies and other products. In its natural form, pectin is an indigestible dietary fiber. Modified citrus pectin is a dietary supplement made by altering the pH and polysaccharide structure of pectin to make it more easily digestible. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration generally regards modified citrus pectin as safe, but as with any dietary supplement, a few adverse effects have been reported.
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Modified citrus pectin may cause hypersensitivity. If you are allergic to citrus fruits, or ingredients contained in citrus pectin compounds, avoid using the supplement. According to the American Cancer Society site, some people have reported asthma after exposure to powdered pectin. Symptom may also include gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea. Because modified citrus pectin is sold as a dietary supplement, not a drug, manufacturers are not required to prove safety or effectiveness as long as there is no claim for prevention or treatment of disease. Since the FDA does not regulate supplements, there may be inconsistencies in ingredients or additives, which can cause allergic reactions.
Modified citrus pectin may reduce or prevent absorption of prescription or over the counter medications. Although limited research has been done in humans, there is evidence that pectin may lower cholesterol levels. Be cautious when combining cholesterol-lowering agents with modified citrus pectin. Modified citrus pectin can increase excretion of dangerous metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Findings of a study done by the Amitabha Medical Clinic and Healing Center showed a possible reduction in toxic heavy metal load in patients using modified citrus pectin. Although no side effects were reported, caution is advised when taking modified citrus pectin in addition to chelating agents that may significantly increase urinary excretion of metals. Consult your doctor before combining modified citrus pectin with any drugs, herbs or supplements.
Effects on Fetuses and Infants
Medical studies are inconclusive on the effects of taking citrus pectin during pregnancy, so pregnant women are advised not to take the supplement. The effects on fetal development or on breast-fed infants are as yet undetermined. Inform your health-care practitioner about any dietary supplements you are using while pregnant or breast-feeding.
Modified citrus pectin is a dietary fiber, so high doses may cause diarrhea from its laxative effect. Discontinue use if you experience gastric intolerance or if loose stools continue for more than 24 hours. Reaction to the fiber content in modified citrus pectin may cause fluid or electrolyte loss resulting in constipation or fecal impaction, especially in the elderly.
Other Health Consequences
Relying on citrus pectin alone as a treatment for disease and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care may have serious health consequences. The use of modified citrus pectin for prostate cancer, tumor reduction or any type of cancer is considered experimental. Medical supervision is essential when using modified citrus pectin for the management any type of serious disease.