For most of us non-scientists, pectin is something we might think of when we’re making jam. 🙂 Chinese researchers looked at the naturally occurring substance for a very specific kind of medical application.
A new study by researchers at Ningbo University looks at the potential of citrus pectin for micro and nano-delivery systems. The paper was published in the December 2022 issue of the journal Food Hydrocolloids.
Citrus fruits are extraordinarily rich in compounds called bioactives. This category includes essential oils as well as pectin and other materials.
- Pectin is the main by-product when processing citrus peels and pith;
- It has the potential for anti-inflammatory effects;
- It’s a biodegradable material;
- It has low toxicity;
- It can also help modulate the immune system.
Because of its structure, so-called green extraction techniques can produce a high quantity of pectin, as well as improving its effectiveness, and ability to cover or encapsulate other materials.
Its properties make it uniquely suitable for biodelivery systems that use newly developed macro- and nano-delivery technology, i.e. creating compounds at the nanoscale which can enter the body and travel directly through the digestive system. Pectin can safely interact with compounds such as proteins and create a delivery system for various materials such as polyphenols, essential oils and probiotics.
The case for citrus waste
With 14 million tons of citrus fruit produced each year globally (according to 2019 figures), most of it is still processed as juice and essential oils (about one-third of the world’s citrus production). Productive uses of the waste products that are generated, such as peel, pith and seeds, eliminates an environmental problem even as it may also solve a medical one.
At the same time, there is a growing demand for pectin, largely for use in the food industry. Turning traditional citrus waste into valuable pectin is a no-brainer.
It is believed that the anti-inflammatory properties of pectin are due to its structure, which inhibits certain inflammatory processes. Green extraction enhances those properties, and so the researchers tested a number of techniques for comparison purposes.
They suggest that, through various methods such as microcapsules, and emulsions, that pectin-based systems could deliver compounds such as essential oils and polyphenols directly to the intestines to improve intestinal immunity.
It’s an exciting and futuristic application, and the researchers have only begun to examine the practical ways it can be accomplished.