Chitosan is a type of fiber that could potentially help to prevent obesity. It creates a gel that holds the fats from food, preventing their absorption and excreting them through the stool.
What is chitosan?
Popularly known as “fat magnet”, chitosan is a natural fiber extracted from the exoskeleton from some crustaceans. Above all, its interest lies in its effects on the digestive system, since it can neutralize fats before they are stored.
Where does chitosan come from?
The shell that protects the body of a crustacean is made up, among other substances, of chitin in a 30%. Said element is a polysaccharide (complex carbohydrate) whose specific name is acetyl-D-glucosamine. Therefore, we can obtain great amount of this element from the exoskeleton of prawns, lobsters, shrimps or crabs.
Before starting the chitosan manufacturing process, we have to separate the chitin from the rest of the components of the shell. However, this involves eliminating the protein content that makes up around a 20 and 40% of the matter; minerals, mainly calcium and magnesium carbonates and phosphates, which make up around half of the chemical composition; finally, the carotenoid pigments, which are the ones responsible for the red or orange color of crustaceans.
Once we have remove them all, we will produce chitosan by the deacetylation of chitin, which can be done chemically or biologically. The first one uses a very alkaline environment (like caustic soda). On the other hand, the second one uses a series of enzymes called deacetylase which come from several fungi species. To sum up, the deacetylation consists of removing the acetyl fraction from the chitin molecule, whose scientific name is N-acetyl-D-glucosamine.
Functioning of Chitosan
Its function on the digestive system is basically electrostatic. After going through the acid medium of the stomach, chitosan obtains a positive charge in the free amino acid groups. On the other hand, the lipids (fats) have a negative charge from the COOH groups (which define the structure of a fatty acid). Consequently, this will trigger said electrostatic attraction with chitosan, resulting in the formation of a gel.
To understand the dimension of this process, we will provide a fact: the chitosan/fat proportion tends to reach a 1:5 ratio.
The surface of said gel is made up by chitosan molecules that bind to the fat ones, storing them inside. Moreover, it is immune to the effect of the intestinal and pancreatic juices, which means that it ends up being excreted. Thus, the typical alkalinization of the bowel contributes to the formation of the gel, unlike the stomach acidity.
We still need to mention a phenomenon known as competitive inhibition produced by the enzymes amylase and lipase. This is due to the similar molecular structure between these enzymes and that of chitosan.
Less fat absorption
All in all, we are talking about a compound that is extremely useful for lowering the fat absorption in the intestinal tract. Therefore, we will be able to prevent their storage in the adipocytes. In fact, let’s not forget that a gram of fat has 9 kilocalories, wile carbohydrates and protein have 4 kilocalories.
Properties of Chitosan
This natural fiber has three main biological properties because it is biodegradable, biocompatible and bioactive. Combining these bio-properties results in a wide range of properties that we can take advantage of. However, not only in the clinical sense, but also in biochemical and biomedical applications.
Uses of Chitosan
There is a very interesting hybrid material called silica-chitosan. In fact, it has an excellent compatibility with the human body tissues, which is why it used for polyglycolate and silk stitches. There is evidence to support this: it shortens the wound healing process by increasing the permeability of the stitch more than a hundred times. Moreover, it limits the development of microorganism, thus reducing the risk of infection.
It helps to reduce the bleeding of wounds when there is an artery involved just by applying it to the bandages. Therefore, this is a great advantage when compared to traditional bandages, since it is also hypoallergenic and antiseptic.
It is also renowned in implant surgery. In fact, it reduces the inflammation and pain when combined with chlorhexidine, meaning that we will take less anti-inflammatories and analgesics.
In addition, some professionals prescribe it for periodontitis and gingivitis treatments.
It is becoming more popular in plastic surgery to support the regeneration of the modified tissues. This is due to its ability to repair in terms of shortening the healing process and reducing the onset of scars.
The food industry has also taken advantage of this ingredient, for example:
- As an emulsifier to make bread dough
- To make drinks, it keeps fruit juices clear avoiding the brown tone that is specially very common in apple juice
- In the wine industry, it is used to prevent alterations known as white wine oxidation. Actually, it removes the phenolic compounds (very common chemical substances in vegetable products, the one from wine is called resveratrol)
- In general, it is used as preservative in many products. This is due to its ability to inhibit the growth of microorganisms and bacteria. For instance, escherichia, staphylococcus, yersinia and listeria, since all of them trigger food intoxication. In addition, it also neutralizes some fungi like byssochiamys, mucor and aspergillus, the latter produces dangerous aflatoxins.
It is used as coating for polyurethane paint against sunlight. It is specially useful in cars, furniture and packages.
Agricultural and environmental uses
It contributes to increasing the production performance and protects against external agents. More specifically, it protects against fungal infections.
Moreover, it is involved in water filtration processes, removing contaminating substances so that it can be drinkable.
On top of that, it is an effective coagulant or flocculant agents to treat residual waters. In fact, it removes colloidal substances that would take ages to remove due to their sedimentation.
Benefits of chitosan
Enhancing the immune system
Chitosan can naturally enhance the immune system in two ways: humoral and cellular immunity. The first one involves the synthesis of antibodies. On the other hand, the second one involves a group of cells like lymphocytes T and B.
Activating the NK cells
Its ability to activate the NK cells (Natural Killers) is quite interesting. To sum up, their function is to attack cancer cells specifically. Said activation makes chitosan ten times more effective than other treatments against cancer.
Balancing the cholesterol levels
There are reputed studies that have proven how chitosan can balance the blood cholesterol levels, specially LDL. Let’s not forget that hypercholesterolemia is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular and brain diseases (strokes).
Reducing the blood pressure
Moreover, it can lower the flood pressure, while improving the calcium absorption. This is specially useful for those who suffer osteoporosis. In addition, it controls the helicobacter pylori bacteria that can trigger stomach ulcers while supporting anemia treatments.
Let’s not forget about its ability to prevent teeth and gum infections. In fact, it can even support the tissue recovery after plastic surgery.
There have been medical studies that provide concluding evidence regarding the possible uses of chitosan against some diseases. For example, it could help treating Crohn’s disease (a chronic inflammatory process that usually occurs in the intestinal tract, usually in the last sections).
Weight loss support
It is a natural fiber with an excellent biological quality due to its extraordinary ability to absorb fats. In fact, its main and most known use is as dietary supplement in weight loss processes. However, taking chitosan does not ensure losing weight, it has to be combined with a good diet and physical exercise. Not in vain, chitosan does not produce any effect on carbohydrates.
Each gram from this product absorb around eight grams of fat.
If we take into account that the recommended daily dose is three grams, we would be losing around twenty or twenty-five of fat. However, as we said before, we should not place all the responsibility on this product, otherwise we may end up consuming too much. Consequently, this could have negative effects like gaining weight instead of losing it.
Usually, the recommended daily dose is around 2500mg distributed in the three main meals. To do so, we have to take it fifteen minutes before each meal with two glasses of water.
When it comes to the duration of the treatment, it is advisable to prolong it for at least twelve weeks. Otherwise, its effect may just go unnoticed. However, it is also dangerous to take it for an excessively long period of time (fifteen weeks). Consequently, it could hinder the absorption of the nutrients we have previously mentioned.
Another use consists of applying chitosan powder on the gums or chewing gums. This will help to prevent periodontal disease or gum inflammation.
Side effects of chitosan
Moreover, it can trigger adverse effects on pregnant women that basically slow down the growth of the fetus.
For example, it can produce jaw and chest pressure, skin problems (itchiness, rashes, dermatitis) and intense headaches.
Those who are allergic to seafood can have problems if they take chitosan.
Combination with other supplements
Since our purpose is losing weight, it would be good to combine it with an appetite suppressant. For instance, you can eat some seaweed like (spirulina and fucus). Or perhaps, you could use one that triggers metabolic stress, like red tea or white horehound (a plant that benefits the digestive system, vesicle and liver), to name a few.
Combined with vitamin C enhances the fat absorption (this combination is quite frequent).
- López-Iglesias C, Barros J, Ardao I, Monteiro FJ, Alvarez-Lorenzo C, Gómez-Amoza JL, García-González CA. Vancomycin-loaded chitosan aerogel particles for chronic wound applications. Carbohydr Polym. 2019 Jan 15;204:223-231. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2018.10.012. Epub 2018 Oct 9.
- Hu Z, Gänzle MG. Challenges and opportunities related to the use of chitosan as food preservative. J Appl Microbiol. 2018 Oct 16. doi: 10.1111/jam.14131.
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