What’s the difference between natural pectin and “modified” pectin? Natural pectin is a sugary carbohydrate found in ripe fruits. Modified pectin is a powder you buy at the pharmacy.

Jams and preserves use natural pectin as a setting agent for fruits that don’t contain enough of it. The following fruits already contain quite a lot:

  • berries
  • stone fruits, such as peaches and apricots
  • most citrus fruits

Modified citrus pectin (MCP) usually comes in powder form. Some say it could be beneficial in the fight against prostate cancer and other cancers. Some say it can treat high cholesterol. But do these claims hold up to study? Read on to find out.

Your intestines can’t absorb pectin in its natural form. This makes it an effective source of fiber. The pectin from citrus is processed to make the MCP molecules smaller so it’s more easily absorbed into your bloodstream. That means your body can benefit from more than just pectin’s fibrous properties.

If you shop for MCP, you’ll see a variety of health claims. Blood detoxification, cellular health, and ridding your body of heavy metals are among the benefits attributed to MCP. Some evidence suggests that children with lead toxicity improve with MCP treatment. Unfortunately, these small studies were of poor design and lacked control groups. These studies may also have had financial conflicts of interest with an MCP manufacturer. More research is needed to confirm the findings.

Some people with cancer take MCP as a supplement because they’ve heard it reduces tumor growth. So far studies have only looked at a few forms of cancer, but the research seems promising. The Susan G. Komen breast cancer educational organization says that MCP is often used in breast cancer therapy to prevent metastasis, or the spread of cancer to other organs.

Pectin acts as an effective source of dietary fiber. A diet high in fiber is linked to lowering cholesterol. That might be why MCP is sold as an aid for lowering cholesterol. However, there are only limited studies that support its use, and supplements don’t always provide the same benefits as naturally occurring substances.

You can buy MCP as a powder at health food markets, stores that sell supplements, and online. Read the package directions for dosing. Most suggest dissolving powdered MCP in liquid and drinking it on an empty stomach. It’s also available in capsule form.

Taking too much MCP isn’t dangerous, but it might make your stomach hurt. It also could cause diarrhea, bloating, and gas. This is especially true if the form of MCP you’re taking includes extra fiber.

Diarrhea lasting more than a few days can cause severe dehydration.

If you use the powdered form of MCP, be careful not to accidentally inhale it, as the dust may irritate your lungs. MCP may interfere with cholesterol-lowering medications. It also might interfere with the absorption of nutrients because it can be a source of dietary fiber.

You should avoid MCP if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as studies of its safety haven’t been done on these populations. As with any supplement, consult your doctor before using MCP.

Since MCP is a supplement, it is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). MCP isn’t known to be dangerous, but it’s also not a miracle drug. Medical understanding of its ability to cure or slow cancer is limited. It appears to have an effect on lowering cholesterol, but more study is needed. MCP is generally considered harmless in suggested doses, but a balanced diet and regular exercise are the best indicators of long-term health.