What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Chitosan?

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Chitosan is a form of fiber chemically processed from crustacean shells. Like other forms of fiber, such as oat bran, chitosan is not well digested by the human body. As it passes through the digestive tract, it seems to have an ability to bond with ingested fat and carry it out in the stool. For this reason, it has been tried as an agent for lowering cholesterol and reducing weight. However, the results in studies have been more negative than positive.

In addition, chitosan has been tried as a treatment for kidney failure and as an aid in wound healing.

Note:We do not recommend the use of chitosan in children or pregnant women due to concerns about possible growth retardation (see Safety Issues below).

On the basis of chitosan's supposed ability to bind fat in the intestines, it has been tried as a treatment for high cholesterol . However, the evidence regarding whether it really works is generally more negative than positive. 1 At best, chitosan appears to offer no more than minimal benefit for high cholesterol.

Chitosan has also been proposed as a weight loss treatment on the same principle. 2 However, despite some mildly positive results, the current balance of evidence suggests chitosan does notin fact significantly aid weight loss. 3 Weak evidence hints that chitosan may be helpful in kidney failure. 4 When used for this purpose, it is thought to work by binding with toxins in the digestive tract and causing them to be excreted.

Studies in dogs have found that...

Safety Issues

There is significant evidence that long-term, high-dose chitosan supplementation can result in malabsorption of some crucial vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins A, D, E, and K. 5 In turn, this appears to lead to a risk of osteoporosis in adults and growth retardation in children. For this reason, adults taking chitosan should also take supplemental vitamins and minerals, making especially sure to get enough vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium.

Another possible risk of long-term ingestion of high doses of chitosan is that it could change the intestinal flora and allow the growth of unhealthful bacteria. 6 Finally, there has been a case report of arsenic poisoning caused by...