Pectin is a complex carbohydrate derived from plant cell walls. In addition to its thickening properties, it is used to improve the texture of foods like yogurt. Because pectin forms a gelatin-like consistency when added to water, it can affect how quickly food moves through the intestines and how much cholesterol is absorbed from the diet. Previous studies have shown that these types of "gelling fibers" can lower serum cholesterol by 3 to 7%.
Picking a pectin
Various factors, such as the chemical structure, molecular weight, and source of the pectin (apple or citrus peel, for example), can all affect the cholesterol-lowering action of pectin in the body. To put these different properties to the test, researchers from Department of Human Biology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and the Cargill Corporation designed a two-part study.
In the first part, 30 people with mildly elevated cholesterol levels were given 15 grams of pectin or cellulose (nontreatment) each day for four weeks. The pectin was added to cereal bars, fruit preparations, and capsules. Seven different pectin types were tested, including
- two types of apple pectin,
- three types of citrus pectin,
- one orange pulp fiber, and
- one low-molecular-weight pectin.
In the second part, 30 people with slightly elevated cholesterol levels received 6 grams of pectin or cellulose each day for three weeks. This time, two types of citrus pectin with different molecular weights were studied. Here's what they found:
- Citrus and apple pectins with certain chemical characteristics and higher molecular weight were the most effective in lowering total- and LDL-cholesterol levels. These pectin types reduced cholesterol by 7 to 10% compared with the cellulose control.
- Both amounts--6 and 15 grams of pectin per day--lowered cholesterol levels significantly.
- Orange pulp fiber did not lower total and LDL cholesterol, but it lowered heart-healthy HDL cholesterol.
"Generic claims for all pectin types to reduce cholesterol cannot be supported based on our data, and molecular characterization of pectin and dose should be considered for health claims," concluded the researchers. In other words, to ensure people receive a health benefit, differences between pectin types should be identified and products should be marketed with those differences made clear to consumers.
Lowering cholesterol naturally
Since the amounts of pectin needed for health benefits are higher than amounts a person gets through diet, and at the moment, it is difficult to know which supplements would be most helpful, here are some other things that you can do to help lower your cholesterol. The more strategies you incorporate, the better your chances of keeping your numbers in check.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Don't be overwhelmed by excess pounds. Making a few changes can lead to big losses. Start simply, by swapping out your favorite bag of chips with a handful of nuts and adding in a brisk 15-minute walk to start your day. You'll have a better chance of keeping the weight off if you gradually adopt a healthier way of living.
- Aim for 10,000 steps. Regular exercise helps boost protective HDL-cholesterol levels, brighten your mood, and keep blood pressure in check. Recording 10,000 steps on a pedometer each day is an easy way to assure that you are getting the amount of exercise that most people need to keep their heart healthy.
- Be fiberful. To get the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day, include plenty of beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, berries, and broccoli in your diet.
(Eur J Clin Nutr 2011;doi:10.1038/ejcn.2011.208)