High levels of LDL cholesterol and a high ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol are both considered to be strong risk factors for heart disease. Several studies have found that pectin, a complex carbohydrate found in many fruits, can lower LDL cholesterol levels and therefore improve heart health.
In 1987, a group of scientists at the University of Florida studied the effects of pectin on serum cholesterol levels in a group of 27 individuals who were at a moderate to high risk of heart disease. Half of the subjects consumed the equivalent of three table spoons of pectin derived from grapefruit peel and pulp each day for eight weeks while the other half were fed a placebo.
At the end of the eight weeks, the pectin and placebo groups were reversed and the study continued for a further eight weeks. No other dietary or lifestyle changes were made over the sixteen week study period.
The research, led by physician Dr. James Cerda, found that the pectin supplementation reduced plasma cholesterol levels by an average of 7.6%. Furthermore, the pectin reduced low-density lipoprotein levels (the so-called “bad cholesterol”) by 10.8% and the ratio of LDL to HDL by 9.8%. The researchers concluded that “a grapefruit pectin-supplemented diet, without change in lifestyle, can significantly reduce plasma cholesterol.”
Dr. James Cerda had previously tested the effects of pectin on animals and found that pigs fed a diet containing 3 percent grapefruit pectin for a year reduced their cholesterol levels by more than a third.
Another study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that a diet consisting of 7% pectin reduced blood cholesterol levels in rats by 27% and liver cholesterol levels by 17%. The researchers believe the reduction in serum cholesterol is caused by an increase in the excretion of bile acid in the body which in turn stimulates the production of bile acid in the liver. Bile acid is produced from cholesterol so an increase in bile acid production leads to a decrease in cholesterol stores. The rats on the pectin diet experienced a 168% increase in fecal bile acid secretion.
Pectin is found in fruits such as apples, plums, lemons, cranberries, grapefruit, and oranges. Some vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, and spinach also contain pectin. The highest concentrations of pectin are found in citrus peels. Care should be taken before adding grapefruit to a diet program as grapefruit can interact with some drugs including benzodiazepines, sertraline, and some statins, leading to an increase in their potency.
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