Research from Russian scientists has determined that pectin, a natural fiber substance contained in a number of fruits and vegetables, slows the activity of the enzymes that break down starches and sugars.
While the research tested a variety of drug compounds, and was intended to show how pectin slows down the absorption of pharmaceuticals, the results fill in one of the gaps in understanding how fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates and sugars, and thus helps prevent the spiking of blood sugar known to provoke glucose intolerance, diabetes and weight gain.
The research tested pectin from three different sources, including sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum), onion bulbs (Allium cepa), carrot (Daucus sativus), and white cabbage (Brassica oleracea). They found that all the pectins, extracted using two methods and with different concentrations, slowed down the activity of alpha-amylase enzymes produced by human pancreatic cells.
The measurements took place in an environment that mirrored the human stomach. The pectin slowed down the enzyme activity, which in turn slowed the absorption of several pharmaceutical drugs.
This of course might prompt conventional doctors to suggest – along with the many other restrictions given to patients when prescribing pharmaceutical drugs – that their patients restrict pectin intake and thereby miss the many benefits of pectin fiber.
The glycemic benefits of pectin are undeniable. The fact that pectin slows glycemic response has been proven in other research. For example, researchers from Tokyo’s Metropolitan Komagome Hospital studied gastric emptying and glycemic rates following eating among ten healthy men. They gave the men either agar (from seaweed), pectin or a control meal at different mealtimes and tested their glycemic responses and gastric emptying rates following the meal. They found that both the agar and pectin significantly reduced the glycemic responses following the meals compared with the control meals among the men.
Besides the effect of leveling off blood sugar levels, these benefits include the reduction of low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol). Pectins also help prevent atherosclerosis, and provide prebiotics that feed our digestive probiotics. Promoting our intestinal probiotics in turn produces a myriad of digestive benefits, including helping to prevent various bowel and liver infections.
Significant sources of pectin include apples, bananas, legumes, cabbage, apricots, onions and carrots. These foods also happen to be some of the best prebiotic foods as well. Many of these pectin-rich foods also happen to contain one of the most potent prebiotic of all: fructooligosaccharides.
Several of these foods – apples in particular – have been the subject of weight loss programs. The “Three-Apple-a-Day” diet was created by registered dietician Tammi Flynn when she observed some of her clients having significant yet healthy weight loss results after eating more apples. She recommends eating one apple prior to each meal to create a more speedy feeling of fullness. This anecdotal result meshes quite well with this newfound mechanism that pectin slows amylase enzyme activity.
Incidentally, regulating the breakdown and absorption of sugars and carbohydrates has also been observed with increased supplementation of probiotics. This illustrates the synergy between our probiotics, fibrous prebiotics and healthy blood-sugar levels – helping to prevent conditions such as diabetes.
Chelpanova TI, Vitiazev FV, Mikhaleva NIa, Efimtseva ÉA. Effect of pectin substances on activity of human pancreatic alpha-amylase in vitro. Ross Fiziol Zh Im I M Sechenova. 2012 Jun;98(6):734-43.
Sanaka M, Yamamoto T, Anjiki H, Nagasawa K, Kuyama Y. Effects of agar and pectin on gastric emptying and post-prandial glycaemic profiles in healthy human volunteers. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2007 Nov;34(11):1151-5.
Adams C. Probiotics – Protection Against Infection: Using Nature’s Tiny Warriors To Stem Infection and Fight Disease. Logical Books, 2012.