Chitosan is used to treat obesity, high cholesterol, and Crohn's disease. It is also used to treat complications that kidney failure patients on dialysis often face, including high cholesterol, “tired blood” (anemia), loss of strength and appetite, and trouble sleeping (insomnia).
Some people apply chitosan directly to their gums to treat inflammation that can lead to tooth loss (periodontitis), or chew gum that contains chitosan to prevent “cavities” (dental caries). In an effort to help “donor tissue” rebuild itself, plastic surgeons sometimes apply chitosan directly to places from which they have taken tissue to be used elsewhere. In pharmaceutical manufacturing, chitosan is used as a filler in tablets; as a carrier in controlled-release drugs; to improve the way certain drugs dissolve; and to mask bitter tastes in solutions taken by mouth. Chitosan is extracted from the shells of shrimp, lobster, and crabs. It is a fibrous substance that might block absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol.

What is Chitosan?

Other names
Poliglusam; Deacetylchitin; Poly-(D)glucosamine

Chitosan is a natural product extracted from Chitin (by products of Crustacean shell extracts). It can be used to inhibit fat digestion and as a drug delivery transport agent. It also has been used as a cholesterol lowering substance.

Where is it Found?
Chitosan is a sugar that is obtained from the hard outer skeleton of shellfish, including crab, lobster, and shrimp. It is used for medicine.

Product related PDF file

Chitosan- The Fibre That Binds Fat
Benefits / Uses
arw Patients with kidney failure who are on long-term hemodialysis. When taken by these patients, chitosan may reduce high cholesterol; help to correct anemia; and improve physical strength, appetite, and sleep.

arw Treating periodontitis, a dental condition. Applying chitosan ascorbate directly to the gums seems to help in the treatment of periodontitis.

arw Helping to remake tissue after plastic surgery. Applying N-carboxybutyl chitosan directly seems to help donor site tissue rebuild in plastic surgery.

Chitosan is particularly interested in the nutritional industry when it was introduced into the market in the 1990s. Health food supplement manufacturers suggested its potential as a nutritional adjunct for weight management. They emphasized favorable results from a few studies; they claimed that chitosan was a beneficial effect on weight loss, cholesterol, ulcers, osteoporosis and blood pressure. They hypothesized that the electrical charges that chitosan carries may bind to the negative charges on bile acids and fatty acids, resulting in the hypocholesterolemic (cholesterol lowering) effect. In addition to enhancing cholesterol excretion, this ionic bonding resulted in excretion of fat, along with its associated phospholipids, monoglycerides and other fatty acids.

For reducing high cholesterol and improving anemia, physical strength, appetite, and sleep in people with renal failure who are undergoing hemodialysis: 1.35 grams of chitosan three times daily.

How much chitosan should a person take to be effective to prevent the fat absorption?
If a person ingests two pounds of New York Steak, will 1 g of chitosan be enough? As this is a swelling polymer, definitely, we don't want to take too much of chiton to block our GI tract. This article is not suggesting that chitosan supplements have no benefit on weight management. In fact, a recent review article assessed results of 14 randomized controlled trials that included 1,131 overweight or obese adults and the authors found that those who received chitosan had an average weight loss of almost 4 pounds more than those on placebo in the short term, and their cholesterol and blood pressure levels also decreased more than those in the placebo group. And, they didn't observe any side-effects in the group taking chitosan.

Possible Side-Effects / Precautions / Possible Interactions
Chitosan is possibly safe for most people when taken by mouth short-term (up to six months) or applied to the skin. When taken by mouth, it might cause mild stomach upset, constipation, or gas.

Special Precautions & Warnings
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of chitosan during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Shellfish allergy: Chitosan is taken from the outer skeleton of shellfish. There is a concern that people with allergies to shellfish might also be allergic to chitosan. However, people who are allergic to shellfish are allergic to the meat, not the shell. So some experts believe that chitosan may not be a problem for people with shellfish allergy.

Caution: Do not use if abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting is present, unless directed by your physician. Those allergic to shellfish should not use this product.
Chitosan supplements should not be consumed within two hours of taking the fat-soluble vitamin A, D, E and K, carotenoids (e.g. lycopene, lutein), flavonoids (e.g. genistein, quercetin, ipriflavone) or prescription medication.

arw Warfarin (Coumadin) interacts with Chitosan.

arw Warfarin is a blood thinner. There is some concern that taking chitosan might increase the blood thinning effects of warfarin (Coumadin). Taking chitosan with warfarin (Coumadin) could increase the chance of bruising or bleeding. If you take warfarin, avoid taking chitosan.

Research Studies / References

arw Chang, M.L.W. (1983) Dietary pectic: effect on metabolic processes in rats. In Unconventional Sources of Dietary Fiber. American Chemical Society Symposium Series no. 214, pp. 143-154, Washington, DC: American Chemical Society.

arw Edwards, C. (1990) Mechanisms of action on dietary fibre on small intestinal absorption and motility. In New Developments in Dietary Fiber, pp. 95-104. New York: Plenum Press.

arw Fukada, Y., Kimura, K. & Ayaki, Y. (1991). Effect of chitosan feeding on intestinal bile acid metabolism in rats. Lipids 26, 395-399.

arw Furda, I. (1990). Interaction of dietary fiber with lipids - mechanic theories and their limitations. In New Developments in Dietary Fiber, pp. 67-82. New York: Plenum Press.

arw Ikeda, I., Sugano, M., Yoshida, K., Sasaki, E., Iwamoto, Y. & Hatano, K. (1993) Effects of chitosan hydrolysates on lipid absorption and on serum and liver lipid concentrations in rats.

arw Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 41, 431-435.

arw Knorr, D. (1991). Recovery and utilisation of chitin and chitosan in food processing waste management. Food Technology 45, 114-122.

arw Maezaki, Y., Tsuji, K., Nakagawa, Y., Kawai, & Akimoto, M. (1993). Hypocholesterolemic effect of chitosan in adult males. Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry 57, 1439-1444.

arw Razdan, A. & Pettersson, D. (1994). Effect of chitin and chitosan on nutrient digestibility and plasma lipid concentrations in broiler chickens. British Journal of Nutrition 72, 277-288.