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Pectin: Panacea for both lead poisoning and lead contamination

By Subothini Srikaran, Intern, the LEAD Group, Edited by Anne Roberts

Lead (Pb)

Lead is an element which is regarded as one of the heavy metals. When freshly cut it has a bluish-white colour; upon exposure to air it turns a dull grayish colour. When melted into a liquid it has a shiny chrome-silver lustre [i].

Lead Contamination

Over the last three decades, environmental Lead (Pb) concentrations have fallen considerably in some countries, due to removal of Pb from gasoline, household paint, solder, and other consumer products (CDC Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005). Despite this progress, human populations are still exposed to low levels of Pb via contaminated food, water, dust, and soil, and occupational activities.

Lead Poisoning

Elevated levels of the heavy metal lead in the body result in a medical condition known as lead poisoning. Lead interferes with various body processes and is toxic to organs and tissues such as heart, bones, intestines, kidneys and reproductive and nervous systems. It is predominantly toxic to children, because it interferes with the development of the nervous system thereby results in potentially permanent learning and behaviour disorders.

Contaminated air, water, soil, food and consumer products are routes of exposure to lead. In adults the common cause of lead poisoning is occupational exposure. On the other hand in children the main cause is lead paint which is found in many homes in particular older ones.

Toxicity is determined by both the quantity of lead in the blood and tissues and also the time course of exposure. Lead poisoning could be either acute or chronic. Acute lead poisoning is caused by intense exposure of short duration whereas chronic lead poisoning is the result of repeated low-level exposure over an extended time. The amount of lead in the blood -measured in micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) - is used in the diagnosis and treatment of lead exposure.

A blood lead level of 10µg/dL or above is considered to be a cause for concern according to The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and The World Health Organization. Even at lower levels lead may impair development and have harmful health effects hence there is known safe exposure level.


The treatment for lead poisoning includes removal from the source of lead, and chelation therapy for people who have markedly high blood lead levels or who have symptoms of poisoning. Another part of treatment for lead poisoning is the treatment of iron, calcium and zinc deficiencies that are associated with increased lead absorption. If materials consisting lead are found in the gastrointestinal tract whole bowel irrigation, cathartics, endoscopy or surgical removal may be utilized to remove it from the gut and avoid further exposure. Bullets consisting of lead and shrapnel may also pose a danger of further exposure and may have to be surgically removed if they are in or near fluid-filled or synovial spaces. In the case of lead encephalopathy, anticonvulsants may be provided to control seizures, and treatments to control swelling of the brain include corticosteroids and mannitol. Organic lead poisoning can be treated by eliminating the lead compound from the skin, avoiding further exposure, treating seizures and chelation therapy could be used for people with high blood lead concentrations. A molecule with at least two negatively charged groups which enable it to generate complexes with metal ions with multiple positive charges such as lead is known as a chelating agent. The chelate formed as a result of this process is non-toxic and can be excreted in the urine, initially at up to 50 times the normal rate [ii].


Pectin is a structural heteropolysaccharide found in the cell walls of terrestrial plants. It is predominantly extracted from citrus fruits and is produced commercially as a white to light brown powder and is utilised in food as a gelling agent, especially in jams and jellies [iii]. Khotimchenko et al have demonstrated that pectin substances are capable of binding heavy metals especially lead. The extent of metal uptake is determined by the chemical structure of pectin and it increases with decrease in the degree of esterification [iv].

Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP)

MCP is a nutritional supplement derivative of the inner white pulp of citrus fruit peels. Citrus pectin is a complex polysaccharide soluble fibre. It has been shown that MCP is capable of binding toxic heavy metals and excreting them without perturbing the vital minerals in healthy humans. This is because MCP has the ideal structure for chelation of heavy metals. For instance, it contains approximately 10% rhamnogalacturonan II, and this is able to bind heavy metals and not necessary mineral cations. In this study all the subjects had a huge increase in urinary excretion of lead and a significant reduction in blood lead levels [v].Low esterified pectin has been demonstrated to promote a significant improvement of thyroid function in rats with thyroid gland pathology as a result of lead injections. Furthermore, lead content in rats treated with pectin was significantly lower than in untreated animals [vi]. 


[i] Wikipedia, 6/1/10, Lead; Characteristics; Isotopes; Chemistry; Chloride complexes; Phase diagrams of    solubilities; History; Occurrence; Ore processing; Production and recycling; Applications; Applications; Health effects, Viewed 12 January 2010,

[ii] Wikipedia, 11/1/10, Lead poisoning; Classification; Signs and symptoms; Acute poisoning; Chronic poisoning; Exposure routes; Occupational exposure; Paint; Soil; Water; Lead-containing products; Pathophysiology; Enzymes; Neurons; Complications, Viewed 12 January 2010,

[iii] Wikipedia,  17/01/2010, Pectin, Biology, Chemistry, Sources and Production, Uses, Legal Status, History, Viewed 18 January 2010,

[iv] Khotimchenko.M et al, 2007, Equilibrium studies of sorption of lead (II) ions by different pectin compounds, Journal of Hazardous Materials, Volume 149, pp693-699.

[v] Zhao.Z.Y et al, 2008, The role of modified citrus pectin as an effective chelator of lead in children hospitalised with toxic lead levels, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Volume 14(4), pp34-38. 

[vi] M. Yu. Khotimchenko and E. A. Kolenchenko, Efficiency of Low-Esterified Pectin in Toxic Damage to the Liver Inflicted by Lead Treatment, Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine, Vol. 144, No. 1, 2007 PHARMACOLOGY AND TOXICOLOGY,


The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the Australian Government, and the Australian Government does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained herein.

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The LEAD Group Inc. Fact Sheet Index

NSW Lead Reference Centre and NSW Government Publications On this site

  1. About the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS)

  2. Main Sources of Lead

  3. How Would You Know If You or Your Child Was lead poisoned?

  4. Lead aware housekeeping

  5. Ceiling dust & lead poisoning

  6. Is your yard lead safe?

  7. Health Impacts of lead poisoning

  8. Rotary Questionnaire

  9. Lead poisoned Pets and Your Family

  10. Childhood Lead Poisoning Risk Factor Questionnaire

  11. Is Your Child Safe From Lead? - What Can You Do About Lead?

  12. Lead in Drinking Water in Australia

  13. Have We Really Resolved The Lead Issue?

  14. The Importance of the Availability of "Spot Tests" for Lead in Paint

  15. Pregnant or Planning a Pregnancy

  16. Breastfeeding and Lead

  17. Lead in breast milk

  18. Beware The Lead In Lead Lighting

  19. Renting and Lead

  20. What to do if you have too much lead in your tank water

  21. Lead Contamination in Stormwater

  22. Contamination At Shooting Ranges

  23. Banned: Leaded Wick Candles

  24. Lead, Ageing and Death

  25. Metal miniatures: How to minimise the risks of lead poisoning and contamination

  26. 7 Point Plan for the MANAGEMENT OF LEAD by Australian parents and carers

  27. Countries where Leaded Petrol is Possibly Still Sold for Road Use, As at 17th June 2011

  28. Lead Poisoning And The Brain - Cognitive Deficits And Mental Illness

  29. Facts and Firsts of Lead

  30. Lead mining royalties by state and territory

  31. Lead Mining Stewardship - Grey Lead and the Role of The LEAD Group

  32. Preventative Strategies of The LEAD Group

  33. What do Doctors need to do about Lead?

  34. A Naturopath's Experience Of Lead & People With Diagnosed Mental Illness

  35. Case File: Helping Manage Australian Lead in Petrol - How GLASS Works

  36. Glass Web & Service-Users, Experts & Volunteers, by Country; Countries with Leaded Petrol for Road Use & Worst Pollution

  37. Lead in ceiling dust

  38. Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely

  39. Esperance parliamentary inquiry follow-up factsheet: Where to from Here??

  40. Broken Hill lead miners factsheet 1893 with Note 20081015

  41. Helping a Doctor Help 35,000 Lead-Poisoned People Around the Lead Smelter at La Oroya in Peru
    Ayuda a un doctor que ayuda 35,000 personas envenenadas por plomo alrededor de la fundidora de plomo en la Oroya-Peru

  42. Fact sheet for Australian toy importers and traders

  43. Iron Nutrition & Lead Toxicity
    Informe de Acciones – Hierro y Plomo en la Nutrición

  44. Sanitarium-Are You getting Enough Iron

  45. Do-It-Yourself-Lead-Safe-Test-Kits-flyer

  46. Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  47. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to both adults and children

  48. Lead Exposure & Alzheimer’s Disease: Is There A Link?

  49. In CHINA - Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  50. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you take advantage of the Australian government's Energy Efficient Homes Package: Insulation Program

  51. Alperstein et al Lead Alert - A Guide For Health Professionals 1994

  52. Ceiling Dust WorkCover Guide Lee Schreiber Final Nov 1999

  53. What can I do about climate change AND lead?

  54. The Need for Expert Clinical Assessments in Diagnosis Of Heavy Metal Poisoning

  55. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you have insulation installed

  56. Thirty Thought-Starters on Ceiling Void Dust in Homes

  57. Pectin: Panacea for both lead poisoning and lead contamination

  58. Nutrients that reduce lead poisoning June 2010

  59. Lead poisoning and menopause

  60. Fact sheet For Schoolkids From Professor Knowlead About Lead

  61. Prevention of Exposure to Lead at Work in Indonesia

  62. Mencegah kontak dengan timbal di tempat kerja di Indonesia

  63. How to Protect Your Family from Lead in Indonesia

  64. Bagaimana melindungi keluargamu dari timbal di Indonesia

  65. Cigarette Smoking & Lead Toxicity
     صحيفة معلومات: التدخين والتسمم بالرصاص

  66. Medical Evaluation Questionnaire For Occupational Lead Exposure

  67. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to children

  68. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to adults

  69. Biosolids used as fertilizer in China and other countries

  70. What are the lead poisoning risks of a lead pellet, bullet or shot lodged in the body?

  71. Alcohol’s link to higher lead and iron levels

  72. USA Case Definition of Adult (including Occupational) & Child Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLL)

  73. Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children - A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention

  74. Occupational Health & Safety Fact Sheet Dangers of lead for roofers

  75. Let’s Make Leaded Petrol History - Let’s Make Leaded Gasoline History

  76. Lead, Your Health & the Environment. Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean, Macedonian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese 

  77. Lead Safe Housekeeping

  78. Old Lead Paint

  79. Working safely with lead

  80. A Renovator's Guide To The Dangers Of Lead (Brochure 30 pages)

  81. A Guide For Health Care Professionals (Brochure 34 pages)

  82. A Guide To Keeping Your Family Safe From Lead (Brochure 20 pages)

  83. Lead Hazard Management In Children's Services (Brochure 15 pages)

  84. A Guide To Dealing With Soil That Might Be Lead-Contaminated

  85. Exposure Assessment: Lead Neurotoxicity - Is the Center for Disease Control's goal to reduce lead below 10 µg/dl blood in all children younger than 72 months by 2010, good enough?

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